"Rand Paul admits to 'short temper'" could not have been the kind of headline Kentucky's junior senator was hoping to generate when he formally launched his campaign for president last week.
The media's focus on Paul's testy interview with an NBC anchorwoman — followed by the candidate's vow on CNN to get better at holding his tongue and temper — are small potatoes compared to his really big problem: The things that could make Paul attractive to a broader range of voters in November 2016 will hurt him with the GOP base that picks the nominee.
A neocon PAC already has launched a $1 million attack on Paul for preferring to curb Iran's nuclear-arms ambitions through diplomacy rather than war.
Despite the pressures to play to the base, Paul can best serve his party and country by continuing to push Republicans away from expensive, knee-jerk military adventurism abroad and toward cleansing the justice system of racial bias at home.
Paul's blunt and empathetic statements on racial injustice are extraordinary for a Republican. While continuing to talk that way may not win him many red-state primaries, it's something the country needs to hear.
On the downside, a long list of rash, even bizarre, statements and proposals in the not-so-distant past will haunt Paul.
As an official candidate he's already receiving closer scrutiny, which means more people will realize that his proposed budgets would decimate the federal government and that his Economic Freedom Zones idea for places like Eastern Kentucky would create dystopias where workers with almost no protections toiled for oligarchs paying almost no taxes.
How to back away from his more unpopular and reckless positions — privatizing Social Security, for one — without looking like just another flip-flopping politician will be a challenge.
Not long ago Paul wanted to cut military spending and draw down troops to balance the budget. Now he wants a $190 billion increase in Pentagon spending.
It was questioning during the Today show about that and some other position changes — among them his former call to end all foreign aid, including to Israel — that produced his oft-broadcast flare-up. Rather than make the most of his minutes with a large television audience, he lectured Savannah Guthrie on how to conduct an interview.
Temperament is a legitimate issue for someone who's asking voters to entrust him with the nuclear trigger. Also, prickly lectures don't go over well in debates. So Paul, who walked out of a streamed interview with The Guardian on Friday, has work to do.
Paul is said to be out to win, in contrast to his father Ron Paul's quixotic libertarian campaigns for president.
Elected to his first public office just over four years ago, the eye surgeon from Bowling Green is a long-shot. (On some level, that has to relieve Kentucky Republicans who would likely be handing Democrats a Senate seat if Paul won the nomination.)
In the end, what this campaign probably will decide for Rand Paul is whether he is an authentic catalyst for change or just another passing curiosity in the political parade.