Last week, I posted about Rand Paul’s success so far in his campaign for the U.S. Senate and what it could mean for the mainstreaming of traditional conservative ideas like constitutionally limited government, sound money, and a less interventionist foreign policy. Then there was this news: a spokesman for Paul had to quit the campaign after being associated with a website that espoused racism and the belief that the U.S. government bore some responsiblity for 9/11*.
The Rand Paul campaign was much quicker and more forthright in distancing itself from the staffer’s website than his father was in handling the newsletter controversy during the 2008 presidential campaign. But both this and the Ron Paul newsletters flap show that everytime Paulite views on government, economics, and foreign policy get a mainstream hearing, there are racists, kooks, and 9/11 nutters in the Paul camp standing by to drag those ideas back into the fever swamps.
The early conservative movement had to overcome similar problems — albeit by a process with which Old Right types have considerable problems, if you know your movement history. But as Ross Douthat noted last year, their resistance to policing their own movement is contributing mightily to its marginalization. To have a real impact, candidates like the Pauls have to keep pushing their arguments into the mainstream and resisting those who would relegate them to the margins — which includes a nontrivial number of people who claim to be their supporters and allies.
UPDATE: I originally referred to “9/11 trutherism” on the part of the former Paul staffer. A reader points out that the example furnished in the linked news story shows the ex-staffer espousing blowback, not the truther view that 9/11 was an “inside job.” I think blowback is an oversimplification and the letter was badly worded, but I take the point this is different from trutherism. But there is no question that a lot of 9/11 truthers have found their way inside the Paul movement.