Rand Paul's Problems With the Fringe

Matt Berman

Already this week, Rand Paul has issued one of the strongest statements from any U.S. politician on the crisis in Egypt, and he's tossed light jabs at a potential competitor for the 2016 Republican nomination for the presidency. But those steps are quickly being overshadowed by the personal history of one of his Senate aides. As has been the case for much of his political career so far, the Republican senator from Kentucky can't shake off the wacko-bird fringe.

It's not for lack of trying. Over the weekend, Paul responded to the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi with an op-ed in The Washington Times pushing against U.S. aid to Egypt. Paul argued that the aid has tied the U.S. to "despots" and that "due to our aid and support, Egyptians see Mr. Morsi and America as the same." On Monday, Paul came out strongly against the actions of Egypt's military, calling the military a "junta" on Twitter and accusing American neocons of unfairly pushing aid on the country.

Paul was in some very unfamiliar company with his stance on Egypt, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.—the man who termed Paul a "wacko bird"—called last week's events a "coup," and said that the United States should not be supporting it. Paul has often clashed with the GOP's elder statesman, particularly on foreign and security policy, but with his statements on Egypt, he's seemed to have found himself somewhere near the party's mainstream.

And it's not just foreign policy issues where Paul is trying to come out guns blazing. On Fox News on Monday, the likely 2016 presidential hopeful threw a soft elbow at Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible rival for the nomination:

I don't know about what I've decided yet, but if Governor Perry decides to run for president, I think there are three good reasons he could be president. You know, Texas is a big, successful state; he's a long-term governor—I can't remember the third one, but, uh.

This, of course, harks back to Perry's "oops" moment, which appears to be the main thing he's remembered for. If Paul hopes to be a serious presidential contender in 2016, softly brushing off the competition so early isn't a bad way to start.

But Paul's problem is that his week likely won't be remembered for any of this. That's thanks to Jack Hunter, a new media staffer in Paul's Senate office who was also a radio host known as the "Southern Avenger." The Washington Free Beacon, which broke the story, calls Hunter a close aide to the senator. Hunter had been the chairman of a group that advocates for Southern secession, and in 2004 he wrote that John Wilkes Booth's "heart was in the right place" when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln, "one of the worst figures in American history." His writings have also featured nearly overt racism:

Americans aren't wrong to deplore the millions of Mexicans coming here now. 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.

This isn't just a problem for Hunter, who renounced much of what he had written and said in an interview with the Free Beacon. It's a problem for Rand Paul, who seems to have a consistent problem with being overshadowed by the far-right political fringe. Weeks like this one, where Paul starts off strong and then quickly winds up muddled, are not likely to stop if he does decide to run for president.

In all likelihood, Jack Hunter will be going away. The radical cloud hovering over Rand Paul will not.