Plagiarism charges test Paul’s 2016 run

Greg Nash

Sen. Rand Paul’s readiness for a presidential run in 2016 is being put to the test by the plagiarism charges swirling around him.

In an attempt to quiet the controversy, the Kentucky Republican’s office on Tuesday said the vetting process for his speeches would be changed so that “supporting facts and anecdotes” are clearly sourced.

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But Paul’s handling of the controversy has raised broader questions about whether he’s ready for the intense media scrutiny that a run for the White House entails.

The senator maintains he is being unfairly targeted, and has made several terse remarks when asked about the charges. On Tuesday, Paul said his writings would now resemble academic papers “if it will make people leave me the hell alone.”

Over the weekend, Paul suggested he’d like to challenge his accusers to a duel.

GOP strategists agree that plagiarism incident is nowhere near disqualifying for 2016, but cautioned it is just a preview of the pressure he’d face in 2016. 

“He just got a taste of what the presidential primary campaign trail is like and the scrutiny that everything you do and say will be under,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “So he is going to have to tighten up how he does things.”

BuzzFeed and other media outlets have found numerous instances over the last week in which sections of Paul’s speeches and book lifted text from other articles without credit.

Paul partly blamed the errors on his hectic schedule, saying sometimes he has to read and approve speeches and articles 20 minutes in advance. 

“We write something every week for The Washington Times, and I literally am riding around in a car in between things trying to figure out if I can approve it,” Paul told The New York Times.

Paul said he could not guarantee more instances of plagiarism are not out there. 

O’Connell said Paul’s camp should stop everything and begin an internal audit of his past writings and speeches. The senator should be able to easily recover if there is not much else to find, he said. But if he allows the charges to fester, he warned, they could become a major roadblock to his presidential aspirations.

“Imagine if he doesn’t address this and we find out later this is very deep. Imagine the jokes in the 2016 debate,” O’Connell said. “He could literally be laughed off the stage.” 

Another GOP strategist noted that potential opponents of Paul in 2016 — like Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie — would have large opposition research operations to comb through his record.

Assuming there are no bombshells, O’Connell recommended Paul’s office try to release all past mistakes at once. More revelations could leave people questioning his leadership — and his ability to manage a large-scale political campaign.  

“That in and of itself is a misdeed, but this goes not only to your credibility, but how you might manage a larger operation,” O’Connell said.

GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said all of Paul’s writings and speeches are going to be under the microscope from now on.

“One of the bigger issues is that this will follow him throughout 2016, and every speech will be checked by online sources and other campaigns for plagiarism to keep the narrative going and weaken him politically,” Mackowiak said. 

“This is more of a staff issue than a candidate issue, but the word plagiarism connotes dishonesty and can impact how voters view your character,” he said. 

Paul himself noted the demands on his schedule likely led to the mistakes, and admitted that his office is likely taking on more than it should. 

“We need to get stuff earlier, but it’s hard,” Paul said. 

Paul’s senior adviser, Doug Stafford, issued a statement saying citations for speeches will now be available upon request from reporters, and that the office will be more rigorous in its vetting.

Stafford said Paul relies on a large staff to “provide supporting facts and anecdotes” to his speeches. Some of those were not cited properly, Stafford said.

“Adherence to a new approval process implemented by Sen. Paul will ensure proper citation and accountability in all collaborative works going forward,” he said. 

The controversy started when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow first pointed out that a few lines from a speech Paul gave in which he summarized the movie “Gattaca” resembled the movie’s Wikipedia entry.

BuzzFeed then reported that three pages of his 2013 book, Government Bullies, had been largely lifted from two conservative think tank reports. Paul acknowledged the book’s citation error. 

The new policy from Paul’s office only came after BuzzFeed on Monday found that portions of an op-ed written by Paul in September resembled lines from a report a week earlier in The Week about mandatory minimum drug sentencing.

Strategists predict the incident will blow over, and say Paul remains a strong contender for the White House.

“If he allows this to fester, with his 2016 aspiration, it could become a roadblock. Right now it is just a bump in the road,” O’Connell said.