(The Root) — Jack Hunter, the controversial aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has resigned nearly two weeks after his previous ties to a white separatist group were revealed. Hunter announced his resignation in an email to the conservative news site the Daily Caller.
He expressed embarrassment for some of his previous racially inflammatory behavior, although he stopped short of acknowledging it as racist. His email read in part:
I've long been a conservative, and years ago, a much more politically incorrect (and campy) one. But there's a significant difference between being politically incorrect and racist. I've also become far more libertarian over the years, a philosophy that encourages a more tolerant worldview, through the lens of which I now look back on some of my older comments with embarrassment.
The contrition evident in Hunter's email is a far cry from his initial response after his prior involvement with the hate group League of the South and his antics as the Confederate-flag-wearing Southern Avenger were unveiled. "Today's article that brought my not-very-hidden radio-pundit background to light does not accurately reflect me," he said vaguely at the time.
Hunter's boss, Tea Party darling Rand Paul, stood behind him then, saying, "People are calling him a white supremacist. If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately. If I thought he would treat anybody on the color of their skin different than others, I'd fire him immediately.”
Paul's statement raised more questions than answers, the first and most obvious being how does he define "white supremacist" or "racist," if he doesn't define it as having ties to a white supremacist group?
But Hunter's resignation does speak to how much we have evolved as a nation — namely because it seems to confirm rumors that Paul is seriously considering a presidential bid and that Paul or his advisers, or Hunter himself, believe that Paul could not win with Hunter there.
Paul's name was mentioned repeatedly by the Republican strategist credited with engineering George W. Bush's White House win, Karl Rove, during a discussion of the 2016 presidential field at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this month. Having an aide with a cloud of racist suspicion hanging over his head would have been tough for Paul to shake as a national candidate, particularly since Paul's own previous remarks questioning the Civil Rights Act have already put him on shaky ground with many voters of color — or, frankly, any voter in the mainstream.
One must also wonder if the larger national party leadership played any role in Hunter's exit. A Republican National Committee spokesman didn't say whether party leaders played any role in Hunter's resignation but did say that "Sen. Paul has been very active in engaging with citizens that our party has not been traditionally successful reaching out to. Accepting the resignation of this individual allows us to move on and concentrate on continuing to grow the party."
It is no secret that the GOP has been actively working to rebrand itself as a more diverse and inclusive party for people of color. Republicans have played a key role in the push for immigration reform, and the party has been quick to criticize Republicans who make racial missteps. Most recently a party activist who launched a racially charged attack on Erika Harold, a multiracial congressional candidate, was asked to step down. House Speaker John Boehner and others condemned Rep. Don Young for using a slur against Hispanics.
Hunter's exit will now stop his former boss from having to field questions about him at every interview in the short term. But if Paul becomes the face of the national party, unless he eventually issues a more thorough indictment of Hunter's earlier racially insensitive activities, he will open the party up to further criticism that it is racially insensitive.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.