During an interview on National Public Radio's "On Point," reporter John Harwood asked Paul about Jack Hunter, a former social media director in Paul's Senate office whose past pro-secessionist views were detailed in a June report in the Washington Free Beacon. Paul initially answered the questions, but he interrupted the reporter when he was asked to respond to an editorial in The Economist that aimed to tie libertarian figures to "racist and nativist movements."
"Don't you have anything better — don't you have something better to read than a bunch of crap from people who don't like me? That won't make for much of an interview if I have to sit through … recitation of people calling me a racist," Paul said, clearly agitated about the line of questions. "I don't accept all of that, and I don't really need to or spend the time talking about all of that. If you want to talk about issues and what I stand for, I'm happy to, but I'm not going to go through an interview reciting or respond to every yahoo in the world who wants to throw up a canard."
Paul continued: "Why don't we talk about Rand Paul and what I'm trying to do about growing the party, and then we might have an intelligent discussion?"
"Well, I am," Harwood replied. "But he is someone who wrote a book with you." (Hunter contributed to Paul's 2010 book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington."
"Well you're not," Paul said. "You think you want to dwell on something and you want to dwell on critical articles of people who don't like me and don't support any libertarian ideals."
Elsewhere in the interview, an edited transcript of which ran in The New York Times, Paul repeated a provocative line that is sure to draw attacks from his left: "I think there is no greater defender, truly, of minority rights if you include minorities to be color of your skin or the color of your ideology than myself."
The referenced "editorial in The Economist" was actually a blog post written by self-described former libertarian and occasional Reason contributor Will Wilkinson. It's less an attack on Rand Paul than a broader claim of inherent linkage between libertarianism, right-wing populism, and "white identity politics." Sample:
[R]ight-wing populism in America has always amounted to white identity politics, which is why the only notable libertarian-leaning politicians to generate real excitement among conservative voters have risen to prominence through alliances with racist and nativist movements. Ron Paul's racist newsletters were not incidental to his later success, and it comes as little surprise that a man styling himself a "Southern Avenger" numbers among Rand Paul's top aides. This is what actually-existing right-wing libertarian populism looks like, and that's what it needs to look like if it is to remain popular, or right-wing. […]
There's a reason we see Republicans resort again and again to a fusion of racially-tinged American-nationalist Christian identity politics, empty libertarian rhetoric (an integral part of traditional white American identity), and the policy interests of high-tax-bracket voters. That's what works! Well-meaning, libertarian-leaning, small-government conservatives must find this awfully frustrating. I find it frustrating. Yet it seems to me a plain fact that there is no significant electoral faction in American politics that demands the joint reduction of government and corporate power. A subset of libertarian ideas has functioned historically with some effectiveness as a stalking horse for white identity politics, which has brought a few authentic and salutary libertarian ideas to public attention, but the integrated principled substance of the libertarian philosophy has never been very popular.
For what it's worth, I think the notion that libertarian populism requires racism "to remain popular" is almost exactly wrong. The political market for race-baiting politics has spoken, and resoundingly. Any real or perceived racialism associated with libertarianism is a ceiling, not an elevator.
As Jesse Walker pointed out last month, "Paul-watchers can expect this strand of the story to keep developing." The senator in this pre-2016 campaign season is on a GOP base-broadening mission, and constantly being on the defensive about race relations gets in the way of that project. As he told Harwood, and has been stressing for months:
If we want to grow and be a dominant national party, or even a competitive national party, we need to look like the rest of America. We need black people, brown people, white people. People with tattoos, without tattoos, with ties, without ties – we need to look and represent a broad spectrum of people from working class to business class. We don't do a good enough job on that. My goal over the next year or two is to try to broaden our appeal.