(The Root) — Sen. Rand Paul generated headlines and some kudos for speaking at the historically black college Howard University. The moment was significant because the Kentucky senator's previous controversial statements about the Civil Rights Act made him a target of suspicion and critique among African Americans. That suspicion is even less unlikely to subside now, thanks to new revelations about one of the senator's aides.
Jack Hunter, who helped Paul with a book and has also advised him on social media, was recently revealed to have once been local leader for League of the South, an organization listed as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hunter has also been accused of sporting a costume featuring the Confederate flag. Though Hunter has responded by saying he "abhor[s] racism" the incident presents a problem for Paul. Paul is being touted as a potential presidential candidate, but his Civil Rights Act comments have haunted him by reinforcing the notion that he may be too far out of the mainstream to be a viable national candidate. But the aide's story is also problematic for the entire Republican Party.
Paul becomes the second high-profile Republican elected official caught with a supporter with ties to a hate group. In May, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's office was forced to denounce a supporter connected to the Council of Conservative Citizens, another white nationalist group deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More recently, Erika Harold, a Republican congressional candidate who is multiracial, was the target of a racist email by a Republican leader in Illinois. These incidents present an obstacle to the Republican National Committee, which has recently begun implementing efforts to broaden the party's support among minorities. Party Chairman Reince Priebus denounced the attack on Harold swiftly. He has also led efforts to diversify the RNC's staff.
How Priebus and other party leaders respond to incidents like this, including the latest involving Sen. Paul's aide, will play a key role in how genuine the party's diversity efforts are ultimately perceived by minority voters.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.