RAND PAUL SEES THE ROAD TO HITLER, CONT’D…. Rand Paul (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Kentucky, occasionally tries to put on a sane face, hoping to appear credible in the eyes of the American mainstream.

But Jason Zengerle got to spend some time with the right-wing ophthalmologist recently, and found that when Paul is speaking candidly, he really is stark raving mad. Zengerle notes an event in Kentucky, for example, where a congressional candidate Paul supports compared House Speaker Pelosi to a former Soviet dictator, prompting the reporter to ask the Senate hopeful about the perception that Tea Partiers are extremists.

He leans forward and smiles. “Well, I think whether or not your analogies are over the top, whether you might extend an analogy farther than others might, is not something to be reviled. It’s just an opinion, you know?”

He pauses for a moment, as if wondering whether he should say more, then gives in to the urge. “But I don’t hear that and say, ‘Oh, he’s absolutely wrong.’ I hear him and say that our country is slipping towards that, and there could be a time when we slip and lose a lot of our freedoms. I’ll say things like that Ben Franklin statement: ‘Those who give up their liberty for security will have neither.’ I worry about a time when we would have chaos in our country and then a strong national leader would come along and say, ‘Give me your liberty and I’ll give you security.’ Not that it’s imminent or happening tomorrow or applies to any particular players on the stage, but there are historical examples.”

Paul pauses again, although this time it’s not out of any hesitation on his part; he’s just making sure we’re still with him. “In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler. And so they elected somebody who vilified one group of people, but he promised them, ‘I will give you security if you give me your liberty,’ and they voted him in. And that’s not to mean that anybody around is Hitler, but it’s to mean that you don’t want chaos in your country. And we could have chaos, not just because of the Democrats, but because the Democrats and the Republicans have all been spending us into oblivion. And having a massive debt runs the risk of chaos at some point. Not tomorrow, maybe not next week — I mean, I can’t even predict the stock market six months from now. But I think that a country is in danger that spends beyond its means and lives beyond its means. And I don’t ever say it started with President Obama. I think it started long ago.”

If this seems vaguely familiar, it’s because Paul traveled to NYC for a fundraiser in July, where he made the identical case — by amassing such a crushing debt, he said, we’re following a pattern that “led to Hitler.”

As a substantive matter, Paul is spewing idiocy, and repeating it over and over again doesn’t make it less crazy. Our debt, created by Paul’s Republican friends, is not destroying the currency and won’t lead to American fascism. The very idea is so detached from reality it’s hard to believe anyone arguing this publicly — more than once, on the record — could ever be taken seriously again.

For that matter, this is the same Paul who wants to cut taxes for millionaires, without even trying to pay for it, adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the very debt he considers so dangerous.

In the larger context, this Hitler nonsense is offensive and disturbing, but it’s also the kind of rhetoric that would have permanently discredited a Senate candidate up until fairly recently. Such radicalism was simply considered beyond the pale of what’s acceptable in the American political mainstream.

Rand Paul, however, remains the frontrunner in Kentucky, no matter how crazy he is.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.