Crawling Out From Under the Rubble of Jack Hunter-gate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 10 2013 11:26 AM

Crawling Out From Under the Rubble of Jack Hunter-gate

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Rand Paul has learned a lesson or two from watching his dad weather scandals.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

UPDATE: At the end of this item I note that the Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon asked Mitch McConnell to condemn Jack Hunter. The response from Jesse Benton, McConnell campaign manager:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

If Dan Logsdon would look up from the disaster that is Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign long enough to notice he would see that Rand Paul has done more to reach out to African American and Hispanic communities in the past six months than Logsdon has done his entire career.  We would hope everyone agrees that racism has no place in politics, which is why it was particularly disappointing that Secretary Grimes failed to condemn a liberal Super PAC’s racist tweets targeting Senator McConnell’s wife.

It's been 24 hours since Free Beacon reporter Alana Goodman told the world that when Rand Paul hired a man known as the "Southern Avenger," he hired a fan of the old Confederacy. The story didn't exactly break out of the ideological press. Chris Hayes ran with it on MSNBC,* Salon ran with it, and James Kirchick, who broke the 2008 story of Ron Paul's old newsletters, informed Daily Beast readers of the new wrinkle. The biggest paper in Paul's state ran a story that quoted not one but two political science professors who agreed that Paul had a problem. Jennifer Rubin did the most reporting, telling readers of the conflagration between her and Paul Chief of Staff Doug Stafford.

I reminded him 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 if speeches, writings and votes.”
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That's a version of what I quoted yesterday, when Ron Paul was challenged over his donations from white supremacists. "I don't endorse anything that he endorses or what anybody endorses," said Paul the elder. "They come to me to endorse freedom and the Constitution and limited government." It's a kind of Gordian Knot approach to the great game of gaffes. If you argue that your associations don't matter, then people know what you'll say when they ask about your new scandalous association. Reporters who covered 2011 primary debates sometimes saw Hunter in Ron Paul's spin rooms. The idea that the Pauls didn't know he was a Lincoln-hater is ludicrous, and the fact that no reporter dug it up to now is largely a tribute to the laziness of reporters.

I've been in touch with Hunter since the story broke, largely to see if my theory was wrong and he was packing his things. He's not—he's been pointing me to the same defenses of his punditry that he's been flagging on his Twitter account. The latest is from Fox Business host Andrew Napolitano, who's often also pilloried for his criticism of Abraham Lincoln.

Everything that was “broken” in the “news” story in the Free Beacon has been public information for a long time. It was not hidden. And it was not news. Some of it was youthful hyperbole, and all of it was sliced and diced out of context.
What’s news? Egypt is in chaos and President Obama continues to fund the military there as it slaughters protestors. There are new calls from both sides of the aisle to reconsider foreign aid. Americans are rallying against their own government spying on them. Left and right are coming together to say “enough” and soundly reject the idea of arming the al Qaeda affiliated rebels in Syria
In other words, the neocon world view, which assaulted our civil liberties in a way that would make Lincoln blush and brought us 12 years and two trillion dollars’ worth of useless wars, is crumbling. And it isn’t just crumbling on its own. It has a sledgehammer being taken to it every day by Senator Rand Paul.

And that's why Paul will brush this off. It may re-emerge as a story in December 2015, just as the hoary newsletters story was "broken" again by the New York Times in December 2011. The lesson Paulworld took from the "associations" scandals of 2008 and 2012 is that there's no real long-term damage from such scandals; Paul ended up winning all of Iowa's gettable delegates in the county caucuses, and his allies took over the state party. And "politician claims he didn't write racist jokes that appeared under his name" is a better story than "politician continues to employ guy that hates Lincoln."

I don't want to be too pat, though. In one of the 2007 columns cited by Goodman, Hunter made a jocular case for keeping out immigrants who'd change American culture. "That Americans, white or otherwise, don’t want Spanish-speaking people dominating their airwaves, neighborhoods, or country is no more racist than Mexico’s lack of interest in Seinfeld,” he wrote. “A non-white majority America would simply cease to be America for reasons that are as numerous as they are obvious – whether we are supposed to mention them or not."

That's not how Rand Paul talks. In a much-covered immigration speech earlier this year, Paul spoke Spanish and talked about how he "lived, worked, played and grew up alongside Latinos," quoting at length from Latino poets.

How can we not embrace such passion? How can we not want that culture to merge with and infuse the American spirit? They are not called the romance languages for no reason. As we move forward on immigration reform, I for one will work to find a solution that both adheres to the rule of law and makes room for compassion.

The contradiction is obvious, but Paul doesn't think it matters—Hunter is on his team now, and Hunter's critics have an ulterior motive to discredit the Paul movement.

UPDATE: This is a pretty clever move by Kentucky Democrats.

Kentucky Democratic Chairman Dan Logsdon is calling on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to condemn "the Southern Avenger," a staffer for fellow Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Any condemnation would probably be outsourced to Jesse Benton, McConnell's 2014 campaign manager. What were Benton's two jobs before that? Why, campaign manager for Ron Paul 2012 and for Rand Paul 2010, both roles in which he occasionally worked with Jack Hunter.

*I'm an MSNBC contributor.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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