Rand Paul aide resigns over neo-Confederate ties despite senator’s support

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a news conference June 13, 2013 at the Capitol Hill Club on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a news conference June 13, 2013 at the Capitol Hill Club on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jack Hunter, the self-proclaimed “Southern Avenger” who made the leap from radio shock jock to Rand Paul aide, announced his resignation Monday amid heightened scrutiny of his previous career as a champion of neo-Confederate ideology.

“[T]he moment I became a distraction for Sen. Paul, I knew it was time to leave,” Hunter said in an e-mail to The Daily Caller. “My purpose has always been to help, not hinder.”

As a radio host and columnist in South Carolina, Hunter advocated for secession, praised John Wilkes Booth as a hero, and warned of growing threats to white culture. He left the job in 2012 to take a position as a social media aide to Paul after previously co-authoring a book with the Senator on the tea party. His extremist ties were mostly hidden in plain sight until the conservative Washington Free Beacon published a feature on his writings earlier this month.

Paul strongly defended his “incredibly talented” aide after the story broke even as he distanced himself from Hunter’s views.

“Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?” Paul said of the 39-year old Hunter, who reiterated his support for modern-day secession as recently as 2009.

Hunter also claimed his perspective had changed and that he no longer supported Southern secession or feared non-white population growth. Chris Haire, editor of the Charleston City Paper that ran many of Hunter’s columns, wrote last week in a blog post that Hunter had asked him to take down many of his old writings, a request he denied. 

For Paul, Hunter’s long history of inflammatory activism and commentary poses unique problems. The Senator’s career has its roots in the libertarian movement led by his father, retired Congressman Ron Paul, which was closely linked to neo-Confederate ideology. In contrast to his father’s open and ongoing embrace of the fringe, the younger Paul has been pitching himself as a plausible nominee ahead of an expected 2016 presidential run, an image undermined by Hunter’s presence in his inner circle. Several conservative commentators condemned Paul for both failing to consider the message Hunter’s hiring would send and for sticking by him once he became a damaging story.

Hunter’s resignation may address this criticism in the short-term, but Paul’s strong defense of his staffer’s background and qualifications is a self-inflicted wound that could linger a long time, potentially scaring donors and mainstream Republicans away from a presidential run.

“What does this mean for the GOP?” former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote in a Washington Post column decrying Paul’s initial response. “It is a reminder that, however reassuring his manner, it is impossible for Rand Paul to join the Republican mainstream.”