For Rand Paul, the rubber is meeting the road.
In the wake of last week's racist shootings in Charleston, S.C., the Republican Party has been torn on the issue of whether the Confederate flag should continue to fly on the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia.
Paul, an endless paradox when it comes to Republican minority outreach, has gone uncharacteristically silent.
Assuming the U.S. senator from Kentucky eventually breaks his silence, whatever position Paul takes will tell us a lot about the current state and future of his presidential campaign.
Is Paul a "different kind of Republican" leading the GOP's long overdue minority outreach efforts, or is he the states' rights champion who just five years ago questioned the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act?
Most of Paul's competition in the 2016 Republican presidential field has taken the position that they don't like the Confederate flag but think the issue should be left to South Carolina to decide. That's what's known as a states' rights argument.
But others, including 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, have been clear that they think the flag should come down.
On Monday afternoon, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, joined Romney and Corker. Standing beside her, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, another 2016 candidate, reversed course and called for the flag to be removed from a Confederate war memorial on the state Capitol grounds. Later Monday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined in calling for the flag to come down.
When asked by the Herald-Leader on Monday morning if Paul thinks the flag should come down, campaign spokesman Sergio Gor did not answer.
Paul did address last week's shooting during remarks to an audience of evangelicals in Washington, talking about a "sickness" plaguing the nation and the need for answers to come from outside of government.
And when it was revealed by The Guardian that an alleged white supremacist mentioned by the suspected shooter in his manifesto had donated money to Paul's political action committee, Paul's top adviser said Monday morning that the money — $1,750 — would be donated to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to assist families of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting victims.
But Paul's ear-splitting silence on the issue of the Confederate flag underscores the risk he faces while clearly illustrating the impossible balancing act Paul has tried to strike in running for the White House.
Paul has long been bedeviled by questions of racism, stemming from his father's controversial newsletters, Paul's questioning of the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act, and his initial defense of a former top aide who once went by the name "the Southern Avenger."
But after the 2012 elections, Paul anointed himself the unofficial head of minority outreach for the Republican Party, giving speeches at traditionally black locations and winning accolades from many liberal Democrats for his work on issues important to many black voters, such as voting rights for felons.
In December 2013, I was invited to listen as Paul discussed ways to talk to the black community with the Rev. Kevin Cosby, a prominent Louisville West End leader.
As Paul sat among ceremonial African masks, asking questions about Malcolm X, Cosby laid out for Paul why he should avoid using terms like "states' rights."
"Any time you start using terms like 'states' rights,' that conjures up a lot of emotions for the African-American community because that's what the Dixiecrats used," Cosby said. "I say, 'Man, it's not what you say, it's what people hear.' I know he gets it."
Since that rainy December day in Louisville's West End, Paul has taken his outreach message around the country. But as state Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, pointed out Monday, Paul's focus has always been on issues that lie at the intersection of libertarianism and minority needs.
Restoring felons' voting rights, ending sentencing disparities for drug offenses and his proposed Economic Freedom Zones are topics Paul can and does take to an audience of any color and background.
In his stump speech, Paul often talks about the tragedy of Kalief Browder, who recently committed suicide after three years in Rikers Island, a prison complex in New York, without a trial.
But in the debate over the flag, the views of libertarians and black voters don't really mix. It is either a matter for South Carolina to decide or it is a racist symbol of hate. There is no room for political hedging, especially considering that the debate is taking place in a critical presidential primary voting state.
With his presidential campaign hamstrung by a rocky rollout and stalled amid a growing field of contenders, Paul has been returning to his libertarian roots in recent days and weeks.
He has focused in the past week on his proposed flat tax and continued calls for rooting out waste in government spending. And his marathon crusade against the renewal of the Patriot Act was a departure from his grand experiment to bridge the divide between the Republican Party's Tea Party and establishment wings.
But we're about to find out just how far back to his roots Paul is willing to go.
Whatever he ultimately says about the Confederate flag will be a clarifying moment about where his loyalties and philosophy truly lie.
It's not difficult to guess where Paul would've come down on this debate when he ran for the Senate in 2010.
The big question is, where will Paul side now?