POLITICS
07/09/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Rand Paul's Pick For Social Media Director Was A Terrible Idea

AP

If you leave the True Believers aside, one of the things that always made it awkward to embrace former Texas Rep. and presidential aspirant Ron Paul was that while he took many positions which, when considered in isolation, appealed to civil libertarians on both the right and the left, you couldn't just order those positions a la carte. (And I speak as someone who's experienced this sort of cognitive dissonance first-hand.) Instead, Paul's positions came on a menu of controversy, ranging from mostly genial retrograde stances on the gold standard, to troubling, Confederate-era ideas that packed the pages of the famous Ron Paul newsletters, which have dogged Paul's presidential ambitions to varying degrees.

Anyone who's watched Ron's son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), notes the same set of vulnerabilities. Rand Paul's stances on matters like drone warfare carry enormous appeal to the civil liberties set, while his take on such things as landmark civil rights legislation -- famously illuminated in an interview Rachel Maddow -- dampen that appeal and leave a mark of vulnerability. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Alana Goodman finds that vulnerability, and does a bit of knife-twisting with a deep dive into one of Sen. Paul's aides -- who "spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist."

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

Hunter took his best stab at mitigation with Goodman, insisting in an interview with the Free Beacon that the League Of The South was "very explicit that’s not what they were about" when he was associated with the group. He writes off his attraction to the "fairly radical group" as youthful experimentation. In the interview, Hunter "renounced most of his comments" pulled together by the publication. (The story also notes that while the Anti-Defamation League holds that the League Of The South is an "implicitly racist group," they stop short of categorizing them as a "hate group," per se.)

But Goodman has dug very deeply into the sorts of positions that Hunter has taken in the past, like in this column, "John Wilkes Booth Was Right":

If you are a patriotic American who believes in the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington -- then you cannot at the same time honor Abraham Lincoln. That’s like praising Jesus and worshipping Satan simultaneously. In fact, the Founding Fathers most likely would have snatched Lincoln up by his beard and hung him from the nearest tree. Lincoln’s war empowered the federal government beyond the wildest imaginations of any of the Founders and modern Americans can thank Abe Lincoln for laying the groundwork that led to the bloated Federal bureaucracy that taxes us to death today. The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren’t for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.

And in the same vein:

Now, the Southern Avenger isn't one to begrudge others from celebrating whatever they want. I know I raise a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth's birthday. But there's something awfully strange about a racially exclusive holiday that was invented only 39 years ago by some college professor with a freaky name.

That's from a piece in which Hunter expresses just how bent out of shape he is that some people celebrate Kwanzaa.

Paul's office offered Goodman a generic-sounding disavowal: “Sen. Paul holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception.” Paul's office also denied that Hunter was a foreign policy adviser, something that was reported by The Washington Monthly's Stuart Reid.

It does raise the question: Could Rand Paul have not hired any other human being in the world to be his social media director? One would think that a senator who would like to see his bespoke political philosophy get further implanted into the GOP's core would have a pressing interest in assuring that this sort of thing doesn't happen. And, as near as I can tell, Washington is lousy with people pimping themselves as social media gurus to candidates and campaigns. I'm guessing that a bumbling noob would not be nearly as controversial as a guy who regularly toasts the memory of John Wilkes Booth.

Over at the Atlantic, Philip Bump notes the way the controversy that Goodman elucidated echoes the same "Ron Paul newsletter" controversies that dogged Rand's father back during the 2008 campaign -- and in more ways than one. In 2008, Ron Paul received a defense from ... Jack Hunter:

That year, Hunter wrote a response (hosted at InfoWars.com) to those worried about Ron Paul's newsletters:

"As a long time right-wing commentator, whose been accused of being “racist” more times than I care to remember, there is no way anyone on the non-neocon Right will ever be able to run for office and not be linked to certain segments of the movement that have “racist” attitudes, real or percieved. …

If you believe in Ron Paul’s message, you must understand this: ANYONE who comes along with the same message WILL (not “if” or “maybe”) but WILL be accused of being a “racist” or worse by the establishment, Right or Left. It happens EVERY time. It’s all they have."

I am not sure that's actually true? However, it's worth pointing out that not too long ago, winking approval of neo-Confederate ideas was not confined to the Paulite fringes of the GOP.

Slate's Dave Weigel, who's long prowled the Paul beat, says today, "Not getting the sense from Rand Paul World that it respects the attack on Jack Hunter. These stories never stick to the Pauls." I'd say that's all relative. Ron Paul's 2008 newsletter flap wasn't sufficient to prevent him from mounting another (more successful and professional) presidential campaign four years later. His son's attendant problems with the same set of controversies haven't prevented his ascension, either. If that's what we define as "not sticking to the Pauls," then fine, they don't stick.

If, however, we define these sorts of things as "sticky" in the sense that they adhere to, and put a drag on larger, national ambitions and crossover political appeal, then I'm afraid the shoe fits. There are many, many (potentially more significant) rounds to come. But those in the GOP establishment who, like Sen. John McCain, would like to paint Rand Paul as a "wacko bird" win this one.

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