Was Rand Paul's Red Meat Joke A Bit Too Raw?

More than any other Republican lawmaker, Sen. Rand Paul has aggressively gone after nontraditional GOP voters in the past year, trying to lure Democrats and independents into his party's column as he considers a presidential bid.

So it seemed odd last week when the libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky made a partisan joke about the prisoner swap that secured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release.

His comment made national headlines, and the Democratic National Committee called his remarks "completely out of line" and uncivilized.

So, why make a joke that rips some of the very voters you're trying to attract?

Political experts say Paul is testing out his campaign language before it starts to count in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

"He's really trying to figure out what he can and can't get away with on the stump," said GOP operative Ford O'Connell. "If he can't broaden his appeal in the GOP primary, there is no general election."

Paul is also trying to place daylight between himself and other potential Republican candidates, O'Connell continued, as the GOP still lacks a clear frontrunner for 2016.

Known for his non-interventionist views, Paul has to convince Republican donors and voters that he's strong enough to be commander in chief, O'Connell said.

His joke was the latest in a string of comments last week expressing frustration with the Obama administration over the Bergdahl swap.

While O'Connell argued the dust-up over Paul's Taliban joke at the convention will be nothing more than a "blip" in the long run, it was nevertheless "out of character" for the senator.

"If he continues to do that, it's obvious that he hasn't figured out how to brand himself distinctly from the others," he said.

Read more from Ashley Killough at CNN

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