WASHINGTON -- If Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants to be considered a serious presidential candidate, he's going to have to learn how to handle tough questions about his record without coming across as condescending.
That much was clear on Wednesday, the morning after the Kentucky Republican announced his bid for the White House, when he tussled with NBC "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie over his past positions on Israel, Iran and the defense budget.
"Why don't you let me explain instead of talking over me, OK?" Paul interjected, when Guthrie noted his shifting views. "Before we go through a litany of things you say I've changed on, why don't you ask me a question, 'Have I changed my opinion?' That would sort of be a better way to approach an interview."
"No, no, no, no, no, listen, you're editorializing," he told Guthrie.
Paul said he still agreed with his "original precept" of eliminating U.S. foreign aid, including aid to Israel, but that doing so would "have to be done gradually."
"If we are going to try to eliminate or reduce foreign aid, why don’t we start with the countries that hate us, that burn our flag," he said.
Paul acknowledged that his views have shifted on Iran due to changed circumstances. In a 2007 interview, he claimed it was "ridiculous to think" the Middle Eastern country was "a threat to our national security."
“Two thousand seven was a long time ago and events do change over long periods of time. So we're talking about eight years ago. We're talking about a time when I wasn't running for office and I was helping someone else run for office," Paul said. “What I would say is that there has always been a threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and I think that’s greater than it was many years ago. I think we should do everything we can to try to stop them.”
It's not the first time Paul has gotten heated under the glare of the lights, especially with a woman interviewer. He actually shushed CNBC's Kelly Evans in February when she interrupted him with a question about his corporate tax holiday.
"Let me finish. Hey, Kelly, shhh," Paul said, as he raised a finger to his lips. "Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question."
Candidates get difficult and yes, silly, questions all the time. One measure of their ability to run a successful campaign is whether they can ably respond without inspiring negative headlines in the process. The furor over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) inability to answer a question about President Barack Obama's affinity for America wouldn't have been as great if he had a better-worded answer, for example.
The problem for Paul is that he comes across as grating and prickly when he gets challenged with even legitimate points of inquiry. Making matters worse is his lecturing a woman journalist about how to do her job. The good news for him, however, is that it's a long campaign, and he's got plenty of time to polish his approach heading into the primary contest.
Watch video of Paul's interview above.
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