Rand Paul Wants to Talk About Rand Paul Except the Part About Rand Paul's Choice of Staff

In an interview with John Harwood on NPR, Rand Paul reacted with frustration to continued questions about his choice of Jack Hunter to be his director of new media. Hunter resigned in July amid criticism of his former membership in the neo-Confederate group, the League of the South, and his radio persona, the Southern Avenger.
When Harwood asked Paul about Hunter, Paul cut him off and among other things said:

Why don’t we talk about Rand Paul, I’m the one doing the interview. You can go ahead and beat up on an ex-employee of mine, but why don’t we talk about Rand Paul and what I’m trying to do to grow the party, and then we might have an intelligent discussion.

To me, this seems like a typical political dodge. The interviewer wanted to talk about the Rand Paul who hired the Southern Avenger with ties to the neo-Confederate movement. Is hiring a League of the South member part of those efforts to “grow the party?” If so, what kind of growth are you seeking?
The interviewer made an effort to stay with the topic but was eventually shouted down by Paul. In listening to the interview, my impression is that Paul is going to have a hard on the presidential campaign trail if he can’t handle questions about his decision making regarding important staff.
Paul said Jack Hunter wrote a lot of stupid stuff but none of it was racist as if the absence of racism is the only measure of a good staff selection. It doesn’t commend Paul’s management style to say he hired a guy with a resume full of stupid stuff.
I suppose racism is in the eye of the beholder, but I think many would wonder about the racial attitudes of a guy who wore a Confederate flag as a mask. Whether one could call Hunter’s views on white persecution racist or paranoid is a matter for discussion. My point here is not to call Hunter or Paul a racist, but it is to say that Paul’s lack of discernment is a major concern and one that is only heightened by his defensive response to questions about his judgment.

How Racial Politics "Helps" and Hurts the GOP

For the GOP, how important is  Rand Paul’s aide Jack Hunter’s involvement in the League of the South and neo-Confederate causes? I wrote earlier this week that the League’s leaders are in a messy divorce with the GOP but perhaps I spoke too soon. At the state level, linking up with secessionists might be viewed as a necessary strategy. So says editor of the SC Charleston City Paper, Chris Haire. Haire published a number of Jack Hunter’s columns prior to Hunter’s employment with Paul. Haire says he published Hunter’s columns to depict the real state of affairs in the SC GOP. He then opines:

I believe my intentions are pretty clear: This is what Republicans are in South Carolina, and at the national level they still continue to court racists and Lost Causers. Deeply entrenched racism is all but destroying the GOP at the national level while it continues to help them at the statewide level.

I think he could be right. Segue to this Atlantic column by Michael Wear for a look at the evangelical input on immigration reform. Clearly racism and alliances with secessionists and anti-immigration elements will hurt the GOP outside the South and in national elections but could be the face of certain GOP state organizations. Just to be clear, when I say “helps,” I mean in the pragmatic sense that candidates who claim to be protecting whites in some way bring  voters to the GOP side. In my view, this strategy is inherently self-defeating.
In the near term, the immigration reform debate chronicled in Wear’s column could signal a shift in GOP politics. If the House GOP members get this wrong, they risk closing the door to minorities and losing a segment of evangelicals as well.

Rand Paul Staffer Former Member of League of the South

Of late, I have been writing about the League of the South. My interest has been in the connections between that group and the Institute on the Constitution via IOTC founder Michael Peroutka. Peroutka is a member, supporter and according to one source, a board member of the League of the South (update: Peroutka is a board member as announced at the most recent League conference).
Of much wider interest is the disclosure that a member of Sen. Rand Paul’s staff is a former member of the League. The story by Alana Goodman begins:

A close aide [Jack Hunter] to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

From my point of view as a social psychology teacher, I can understand the interest in Paul’s associates. In making attributions about the social behavior of others, most people are quick to make judgments using only a little bit of information. In the absence of sufficient data, people use what they have. First impressions are made this way, and while they may be unfair, those impressions are often durable.
In making attributions about political figures, voters are at a real disadvantage.  We are quite distant from the person and thus look for clues about the person’s character and beliefs. Consistency is one factor people intuitively use to make attributions. We expect that politicians have certain consistent beliefs, and that they associate with those who also share those beliefs. Furthermore, most people expect that staff members of a politician are especially committed to the politicians beliefs and perhaps are even drawn to politician because of ideological similarity. And so, when it is discovered that a staffer or endorser (e.g., father Ron Paul’s endorsement by Phil Kayser) has offensive views or views at odds with the stated position of the politician, that revelation rightly draws interest.
In light of the Jack Hunter disclosures, League of the South president Michael Hill told white nationalist website Occidental Dissent:

As President of The League of the South, I’d like to thank Rand Paul, the GOP, Salon, and all the other cultural, social, economic, and political organs that are helping us separate the proverbial men from the boys. To wit, you are helping us destroy any “middle ground” to which the timid can retreat for safety. Soon, those like Mr. Hunter will learn that there’s no place in the GOP for Southerners who wish to remain . . . Southerners. Just so there’s no chance that you’ll confuse The League with the GOP or any other “conservative” group, here’s what we stand for: The survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. And by “the Southern people,” we mean White Southerners who are not afraid to stand for the people of their race and region. In other words, we understand what it is to be an historic “nation”–a specific people with a unique culture living on a particular piece of land. And, God willing, we shall one day have a name and place among the nations of the earth.

Given statements like that, it is understandable that the public makes an attribution of white nationalism to people who belong to the League.