It took Kentucky’s junior Republican senator, Rand Paul, two long weeks to realize it was best to part ways with staffer Jack Hunter after it was learned he was a former pro-secessionist radio commentator, who wore a Confederate flag mask during public appearances, and expressed support for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Sadly I’m not joking here.
Paul, who is an early 2016 presidential contender, received failing marks in his initial attempt at exercising sound judgment and delivering a timely decision.
Since the end of the 2012 presidential race, when Mitt Romney fell victim to his “47 percent” comment, Sen. Paul has urged the GOP to be more inclusive. Placing a guy like Hunter on his staff, much less defending him, imploded his efforts to convince the public he truly respects the beliefs or social realities faced by minorities or disadvantaged populations.
Hunter was Paul’s director of new media and the two co-authored the 2011 book, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news site, reported that Hunter, 39, has called himself the Southern Avenger since 1999, and is a past local chairman of the League of the South, a group that advocates Southern secession.
The Beacon also detailed how Hunter wore a Confederate flag mask at public appearances as a radio commentator, and wrote in a 2004 blog post that “John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place,” adding “the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr.”
In 2005, Hunter wrote, “I raise a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.”
As the story broke, Paul’s spokeswoman, Moira Bagley, released a statement saying the senator “holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception.”
Then the senator weighed in personally to defend Hunter, saying, “People are calling him a white supremacist. 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,” Paul remarked to The Huffington Post.
Hunter tried to distance himself from his former incarnation, by petitioning Chris Haire, his editor at the Charleston City Paper in South Carolina, to see if he could have dozens of his old stories removed from online viewing.
Hunter’s reasoning was that supposedly these opinions no longer reflected his current worldview.
Haire looked upon this request with a dubious eye. He offered Hunter an exchange. If these former points of view no longer applied, then write a column detailing that position so it could be published and Haire would pull down the old stories.
That’s a pretty sweet deal considering the inflammatory comments contained in these stories and the possible value of getting them taken offline, but Hunter refused.
This confirmed what Haire already suspected, that Hunter’s opinions hadn’t shifted. He was only attempting to provide cover for himself and Rand Paul, as this story refused to dissipate and was beginning to attach itself to the senator’s presidential aspirations.
Hunter’s efforts ended up doubly backfiring, as Haire wrote a column about this odd request that is a brilliant read, entitled, Aligning Himself with Racists.
Haire says Hunter and Paul wanted to treat these former opinions of the Southern Avenger as if they were akin to a youthful indiscretion – but Hunter was an adult, and a well-known radical on the radio and in print.
“While a member of the City Paper’s stable of freelancers, Jack wrote in support of racially profiling Hispanics, praised white supremacist Sam Francis, blasted the House of Representatives’ apology for slavery, and claimed that blacks should apologize to white people for high crime rates,” wrote Haire.
Haire goes on to say, “Over the course of editing Jack for years, it was clear to me that when he spoke of Southerners, Southern values, and the Southern way of life, it was as if the South to him was solely populated by white people, and everyone else was an intruder or at best a historical inconvenience.”
“Jack traffics in race-baiting rhetoric and repeatedly aligns himself with racists but then refuses to own up to the meaning and purpose of his actions. And the same applies to Rand Paul. Like his father before him, Paul has courted the racist wing of the GOP, the faction that wants to vote for a states’ rights champion, a man with the courage to say we should have separate lunch counters as a matter of principle, a politician with the chutzpah to proclaim that he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act,” wrote Haire.
Hunter winding up on Paul’s staff was not a coincidence. In fact it’s most likely that the senator was well aware of the Southern Avenger’s opinions, and was a fan.
After Paul delivered a speech in Louisville Monday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, it was confirmed Hunter had been let go. Paul said Hunter’s departure “was a mutual decision,” and that, “I think because of the views he expressed before my employment he became a distraction.”
There is another coincidence between Hunter’s rants as the Southern Avenger and Sen. Paul, and that is President Abraham Lincoln.
Follow me here – you see Paul doesn’t come to disagree with the concept of say Obamacare like most conservatives, which generally complain that the end result will be a lessened quality of care, at a greater price, with more money being added to the deficit. Paul disagrees with it on a bigger level. Obamacare to him represents an expansion of federal power.
This goes back 150 years to when Lincoln strengthened the Union by what Paul and his Libertarian buddies feel were tyrannical abuses of power when a supposedly unnecessary civil war was waged to abolish slavery and segregation.
During Paul’s run for the Senate he gave several interviews where he was publicly critical of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and indicated it violated both states’ rights and individual property rights.
This doesn’t make him an out-of-the-closet racist like Pat Buchanan, but when you read between the lines, what Paul is saying is he disagrees with the legal methods that ended state-sanctioned racism.
The problem the Jack Hunter situation creates for Paul is it shows he has a tolerance for slavery and secessionist ideals, and employed the counsel of at least one neo-Confederate.
In the hyper-partisan halls of Congress, even these misguided ideals can find a populist home, but take them out nationally on a presidential campaign, and chances are Paul will be relegated to wing nut status.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said keeping Hunter on staff would have been “fatal” to Paul’s presidential ambitions in 2016, and keeping him on as long as he did probably harmed him significantly.
I imagine Hillary’s oppo-research person was tabulating every minute Paul didn’t fire Hunter, and kept copious notes and video of the senator attempting to defend his not-so-closeted racist staffer.
Rand Paul is to opposition research like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry were to comedians like Letterman, Leno, Stephen Colbert, and John Stewart – he is the gift that keeps on giving.