The XX Factor

Is Rand Paul Sexist or Just a Jerk?

Rand Paul in Dallas last year.

Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images

Rand Paul’s newly minted presidential campaign is already plagued with accusations that he’s sexist, after he lectured Today’s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday, following a February incident where he literally shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans. Now Paul has responded, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

I think I’ve been universally short tempered and testy with both male and female reporters. I’ll own up to that. And it’s hard sometimes. As you know, like during our interview right now, I’m looking only at a camera and it’s hard to have a true interaction sometimes, particularly if it’s a hostile interviewer and so I do think that interviews should be questions and not necessarily editorializing.

It’s a sign of feminist progress that a major politician thinks it’s worse to be perceived as sexist than as an imperious jerk who thinks that reporters should be stenographers. But is it really true that Paul gets equally fussy with every reporter who challenges him? 

Paul appears to be thinking of a recent encounter with the Associated Press’ Philip Elliott.* In this interview, Elliott presses Paul to clarify whether his proposed abortion bans should include rape and health exceptions. Paul rambles on about his personal feelings on abortion, but when Elliott tries to pin him down on actual policy positions, Paul gets annoyed and interrupts: “I gave you about a five-minute answer; put my five-minute answer in,” he says. 

No doubt Paul was openly irritated with Elliott. But his behavior here doesn’t hold a candle to how he talked down and mansplained to Guthrie and Evans about how to do their jobs properly.

By mounting the “I’m not a sexist, just a jerk” defense, Paul can shift the discussion from whether he’s hypersensitive toward whether women in general are hypersensitive—and, better yet, continue dodging questions about his abortion policy.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.

Correction, April 9, 2015: This post originally misspelled Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott’s first name.