It’s newsworthy, I suppose, that Rand Paul’s social media director is a neo-Confederate who loves John Wilkes Booth and likens Abe Lincoln to Saddam Hussein. But what’s more interesting is that the hit job on Senator Paul was posted on a conservative website. And even more interesting is the reason for the hit.
If you’re only a casual follower of the GOP’s internal dynamics, you might be mystified that a conservative site would assail Paul for having “fringe-figure associations.” After all, isn’t the Kentucky senator an ascendant conservative rock star with 2016 presidential aspirations? Why tarnish that star with a lengthy article detailing the past statements of Paul employe Jack Hunter, an ex-radio shock jock who calls himself the “Southern Avenger” and sometimes wears a face mask emblazoned with the Confederate flag?
Welcome to the party’s ideological knife fight; to figure out what’s happening in that internecine subculture, you almost need a flow chart. But I’ll keep it simple.
A bank shot
Conservativism is not monolithic, and, right now, various factions are jockeying for supremacy in the long prelude to 2016. Rand Paul is a conservative libertarian, which means that he believes in small government at home and minimal American intervention abroad. His brethren on the right generally share his belief in small government at home, but many of them fiercely disagree with his belief in minimal intervention abroad. And that disagreement is fiercest among the folks who call themselves neoconservatives.
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
The Washington Free Beacon – the site that broke the story and prompted Kentucky’s top newspaper to pick up the story – knows that Paul is politically vulnerable on this southern racial stuff. During Paul’s ’10 bid for the Senate, his campaign treasurer was outed for having a website that slurred black people (Paul had to fire him); and Paul himself was outed for having written, in 2002, that it was OK “in a free society” if private property owners discriminated against people they hated (the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars restaurant and hotel owners – private property – from practicing that kind of discrimination).
Plus, his father Ron was outed a few years ago for having published newsletters that were replete with racist commentary. None of this should be surprising, because, within libertarianism, there’s a subfaction known as “neo-Confederates” who still haven’t made peace with the outcome of the Civil War. But I promised to keep this simple. Suffice it to say that the Free Beacon knew it was trodding fertile turf when it zapped Paul for harboring Hunter (who, prior to becoming social media director, helped to ghost-write Paul’s 2011 book).
But the Free Beacon’s real concern is not Paul’s stance on race. Its real concern is Paul’s stance on foreign policy and American intervention abroad. The race story was merely the juciest way to go after him, a means to an end. In politics, this is what is known as a bank shot.
Remember the 2012 Republican debates, where Rick Santorum (a neoconservative who wanted to flex U.S. muscle in Iran and other hot spots) clashed repeatedly with Rand Paul’s father (who argued for non-intervention)? What’s happening this week – via other means – sustains that fundamental clash, one that is growing within the GOP. As political analyst and think tank scholar Norman Ornstein noted yesterday, Rand Paul is situated at “the epicenter of anti-defense and anti-diplomacy isolationism.” Paul’s ideological enemies hope to shrink that epicenter by diminishing his influence. Hence the Hunter hit.
Attack of the neocons
It just so happens that the Free Beacon was founded by staffers from William Kristol’s neoconservative Weekly Standard; the ediitor, Matthew Continetti, is married to Kristol’s daughter. The site made its own bones earlier this year by repeatedly savaging Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel for the alleged crime of opposing the neoconservative war in Iraq. Indeed, if you read deep into the Hunter story, you find the real goods: “Since becoming Paul’s social media director, Hunter has publicly vouched for the senator’s non-interventionist bona fides…Hunter has also said that Rand Paul holds the same foreign policy views as his father.”
The Free Beacon story was also referenced this week on another prominent neoconservative site, Powerline, but only in passing – because Powerline deemed Paul’s non-interventionism to be far more important. Hunter was assailed in the post mostly because he appears to echo Paul’s tepid support for Israel. The verdict: “Rand Paul is a clown….Rand Paul certainly isn’t fit ever to direct U.S. foreign policy.”
In all likelihood, this intramural conservative war will continue indefinitely, and Paul won’t be the only pol who takes hits. An identity crisis is actually quite natural when a party is out of the White House; heck, the Democrats waged war on each other when Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, and they sustained it clear through the 1980s. I covered the 1980 convention as a young ‘un, and I wrote at the time: “The Democratic party no longer knows what it stands for anymore. (It has) a contradictory agenda that perfectly mirrors the schizophrenia afflicting a party which is groping for new meaning and purpose.”
Today it’s the other side’s turn.
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