The Conservative Campaign to Purge Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) makes his way to a weekly policy luncheon in Washington on June 11 Photograph by Christopher Gregory/ The New York Times via Redux

If you’re not a political inside-baseball junky, you may have missed the proliferating conservative campaign to vilify Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky libertarian with presidential aspirations. Catch up quickly via the vigorous work of Jennifer Rubin, author of the Washington Post’s Right Turn blog. Rubin advocates purging Paul based largely on his employing as a Senate aide one Jack Hunter. According to Rubin, Hunter “has a history of outlandish statements (as late as 2009) including opposition to the Civil War that would make Pat Buchanan cringe.”

She draws on the legwork of yet another conservative outlet, the Washington Free Beacon. It reports:

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.”

In the face of these revelations, Hunter has backed away from many of his more outrageous statements, including his position on Lincoln’s assassination. Paul’s office, meanwhile, had this to say to the Beacon: “Sen. Paul holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception.”

Rubin provided an entertaining account of her attempt to get Doug Stafford, a top Paul staff member, to explain how the debacle occurred:

I reminded [Stafford] that the office itself so far has put out a single unresponsive statement that it doesn’t tolerate discrimination. I then asked a series of questions (Who hired Hunter? Was his background known at the time? Was Sen. Paul aware of his statements? Now that he is, does Sen. Paul agree with the comments? If not, which does he disagree with? Will he remain employed?). Again Stafford was unresponsive, replying: “Senator Paul’s staffers work for his beliefs not the other way around. You can tell what he believes from 4 years of speeches, writings and votes.” He then cited the paleoconservative American Conservative (co-founded by Pat Buchanan!) for the proposition, I guess, that Jack Hunter isn’t all that bad. So did Paul approve of hiring this guy?

The senator suggested as much in an interview with the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman:

“People are calling him a white supremacist,” Paul told me in his Senate office. “If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately. If I thought he would treat anybody on the color of their skin different than others, I’d fire him immediately.

“All I can say is, we have a zero tolerance policy for anybody who displays discriminatory behavior or belief in discriminating against people based on the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, anything like that,” Paul told me. “We won’t tolerate any of that, and I’ve seen no evidence of that.

“Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?” the senator asked rhetorically.

… “It was a shock radio job. He was doing wet T-shirt contests. But can a guy not have a youth and stuff? People try to say I smoked pot one time, and I wasn’t fit for office.”

Controversies like this “are hardly new to Paulworld,” writes Jonah Goldberg of the conservative National Review Online:

Most famously, Rand’s father, former Representative Ron Paul, the three-time presidential candidate (for whom Hunter worked in 2012), published newsletters bearing his name that brimmed with bigoted bile. When his writing became controversial, the elder Paul insisted he hadn’t known what was in his own newsletters (though in 1996 he took responsibility for them).

Both controversies stem from the same sinful strategy adopted by so-called paleolibertarians in the 1980s. The idea was that libertarians needed to attract followers from outside the ranks of both the mainstream GOP and the libertarian movement—by trying to fuse the struggle for individual liberty with nostalgia for white supremacy. Thinkers such as Murray Rothbard hated the cultural liberalism of libertarians like the Koch brothers (yes, you read that right) and sought to build a movement fueled by white resentment. This sect of libertarianism played into the left-wing view of conservatism as racist. The newsletters, probably ghostwritten by Rothbard and former Ron Paul chief of staff Lew Rockwell, were the main organ for this effort.

“The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake,” libertarian economist Steve Horwitz wrote in 2011, “though it apparently made some folks (such as Rockwell and Paul) pretty rich selling newsletters predicting the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays, and multiculturalists.”

Clearly, some voices on the right want to push Paul out of contention for their party’s 2016 presidential ticket. Will they be heard?

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