The pattern isn't surprising: As his chances of showing significant strength in early primaries have grown, Republican candidate Ron Paul is facing closer scrutiny.
The press and his rivals for the GOP nomination aren't going to give him a free pass in his bid for voter support.
What's suddenly big news is the racial content of Ron Paul newsletters from prior decades, which are getting attention for slurs against black Americans. But the so-called "racist newsletter" scandal is not the only front on which the Texas congressman is taking fire.
Other candidates have blasted his foreign policy positions, which are also the subject of a critical opinion column in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
To some degree, Mr. Paul is getting what he's given. In the build-up to primary votes in Ohio and New Hampshire, he has served up some strong criticism of other Republican candidates.
Whatever has prompted the current negative headlines about Paul (whether it's partly his own negative ads about rivals or not), the onus is now on him. After dishing it out, he needs to show he can take it – and provide an adequate response.
Recent examples of Paul going negative on other candidates:
- One ad focused on alleged "serial hypocrisy" by Newt Gingrich. The ad showed examples of policy flip-flops by the former House speaker while in office, the implication that Mr. Gingrich's values were tainted by later financial ties to Freddie Mac and the health care industry.
- Another ad titled "Consistent" called out aspirants Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain for supporting federal bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis, while portraying Paul as delivering a consistent message of fiscal conservatism for more than two decades.
- His "Big Dog" spot opens with the words, "What's up with these sorry politicians? Lots of bark. When it's showtime, whimpering like little Shih Tzu's." OK, maybe the Shih Tzu is the only one directly named in a negative light. But the ad implies that other candidates won't deliver on promises to curb Washington spending in a hurry, while Paul will.
Perhaps this is just Paul being persistent in pointing out his policy differences with other candidates, and in emphasizing constistency as his strong suit. That has won him lots of fans, especially among libertarian-leaning Republicans.
The questions about racism in Paul's newsletters of the early 1990s have surfaced before, but are coming more prominently to national attention this week.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday called for clearer answers from Paul: "Paul has disavowed the ranting of the newsletter published under his name (just as he did when the subject came up in 2008) and his spokesman says that Paul didn't write it and 'disagrees with it totally.' That's comforting. Sort of. It helps distance Paul from these lunatic scribblings, but it fails to answer the question of why he allowed them to be published in the first place."
Supporters of Paul say he's being unfairly tarred by his foes in the mainstream media and the Republican Party elite, without a full examination of his personal record. One blog post on the DailyPaul.com cites evidence of Paul naming a black American as a possible running mate four years ago, and of his caring about racial minorities.
"When challenging the war on drugs," the post says, "Paul often points out the injustice of blacks and minorities being imprisoned at a higher rate than whites for the same crime."
Paul is also drawing criticism from conservatives for his foreign policy views. Backers praise Paul for standing apart from others in the GOP who supported the war in Iraq and who now are engaged in saber rattling over Iran.
Summation: It's been a tough week or so for Ron Paul, leaving him some damage control to do even as his poll numbers have looked strong in key states.