Dim and divisive Rand Paul self-destructs, again

Flailing at the Clintons and insisting women won the war on women, he’s what happens when stupid goes unchallenged

Published January 27, 2014 6:35PM (EST)

Rand Paul on "Meet the Press," January 26, 2014                        (NBC News)
Rand Paul on "Meet the Press," January 26, 2014 (NBC News)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is what you get when traditional and corrosive American nepotism meets the 21st century GOP echo chamber: a pampered princeling whose dumb ideas have never been challenged by reality.

If you missed Ron Paul's son on “Meet the Press” Sunday, go watch it. I am honestly not sure what was most ridiculous or offensive: attacking Hillary Clinton for something her husband did, or declaring that “if there was a war on women, I think they won.”

Leave that question aside for a moment. Paul’s performance was most interesting for the window it gave us into his character, as the indulged but slightly dim scion of an eccentric political family whose every utterance, all his life, has been treated as important. At some points in interviews with the freshman senator, including this one, you can see the wheels turning in his head, maybe a little slowly, as he winds up to deliver what he thinks is a political humdinger. It’s the oily crazy of Rand Paul being adorably Rand Paul: saying what he thinks is brave and leader-like, but that thing turns out to be simply nutty.

Then the media collectively scrunches its forehead and tries to decide if he's brave or nutty.

So it was with “Meet the Press” Sunday. Paul obviously set out to say cleverly what Mike Huckabee said stupidly: Republicans aren’t going to take the Democrats’ “war on women” rhetoric lying down, especially if they’re facing a Democratic woman running for president in 2016. You can almost see behind his eyes as he thinks to himself: “I’ve got it: I’ll throw a haymaker at Hillary Clinton for something stupid her husband did almost 20 years ago!”

Oh, and the man who opposed the Lilly Ledbetter pay equity act had the stones to frame his critique of President Clinton’s long-ago relationship with Monica Lewinsky as support for workplace laws supporting women.

One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to be — have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that. And that is predatory behavior, and it should — it should be something — we shouldn't want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office… I mean, really — and then they have the gall to stand up and say Republicans are having a war on women? So yes, I think it's a factor.

Though Paul allowed that her husband's behavior is “not Hillary's fault,” he added, “with regard to the Clintons, sometimes it's hard to separate one from the other.”

But wait, there was more. He came right at that whole war on women thing, echoing men’s rights advocates everywhere by declaring that “if there was a war on women, I think they won.” Evidence? “The women in my family are doing great.”

It’s not defending President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky to marvel at Paul’s raising it all again. Forget the fact that the issue was litigated 15 years ago, and every time Republicans went at Clinton, his public approval numbers went higher. Also forget that Paul’s claim that “the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this” is demonstrably false and idiotic. The man was impeached, and an awful lot of mainstream journalists shamed themselves by being stenographers for Kenneth Starr.

But on the self-pitying right, you can never lose by blaming the media for coddling awful Democrats. Paul’s brilliant declaration about women winning the war on women was likewise fact-challenged and paranoid. “I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden. I see women rising up and doing great things,” he told David Gregory. “In fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women are out-competing the men in our world.”

Never mind that women still make less than men and are more likely to live in poverty. Even more cruelly, the man who opposes legal abortion and the contraception-coverage mandate also suggested last Thursday that women who have “too many” children should lose welfare support. “Maybe we have to say, ‘Enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount,’” Paul said Thursday. He backed off a bit on CNN Sunday morning, telling Candy Crowley: “I mused about how you’d have a government policy, but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy,” Paul said.

Only last week reasonably smart people declared that Paul was the beneficiary of Chris Christie’s implosion. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart called him the new “front-runner,” and Andrew Sullivan endorsed Beinart’s piece, tweeting, “Those who dismiss Rand Paul's chances are missing something, I think -- a revival of true small-gov't conservatism.”

I want to get this straight: I know someone is going to win the Republican nomination for president in 2016. The party may be headed toward demographic extinction, but they’re not going to forfeit the election. They’ll nominate somebody. I just can’t see it being any of the people regularly mentioned, as the party’s supposedly “deep bench” of candidates splinters.

I could be wrong. On “Morning Joe” Mark Halperin suggested Paul might have advanced his candidacy by proving he’ll attack the Clintons and go on the offensive on the Democrats’ “war on women” claims. He’s definitely on the offensive. Very offensive.

Of course Peter Beinart left himself many outs in his Paul-as-front-runner piece, noting the freshman senator’s plagiarism and neo-Confederacy problems and adding: “Who knows what the media will turn up when the real vetting that greets a presidential candidate begins?”

He should have added: And who knows what will happen the next time the candidate opens his mouth?

By Joan Walsh