A few weeks ago, in the midst of the avalanche of Obama Administration scandals, a close friend possessed of sound political judgment suggested to me that Rand Paul’s stock as a presidential candidate was rising every day as a result of developments in Washington.

As a static analysis, I thought he was probably right. With every new piece of news from HHS or the NSA, you could feel a growing sense on the right of, “Oh, to hell with it. Let’s just burn the whole thing down.”

Rand’s the potential candidate who matches that impulse. Remember when Barack Obama used to talk about cutting the budget with a scalpel rather than a hatchet? The Rand Paul version of that metaphor starts, “First, I’m going to down a six-pack. Then I’m going to fire up a chainsaw…”

I’m not complaining about that, by the way. I’d happily buy the blade and the beer (and if there was a place you could get both at the same time, I’d probably inquire as to whether they were hiring).

In response to my friend, however, I suggested that presidential campaigns rest on a lot more than who feels instinctively appealing at the time. There’s also the matter of vetting. And it was entirely plausible to imagine Rand Paul being undone by the network of bizarre associations accumulated by his father. You can argue about how culpable Paul pere was on a case-by-case basis, but the existence of such stories is often more important (in political terms) than the details.

According to a story in today’s Washington Free Beacon, it seems that I had the analysis right, but was off by one degree of separation.

A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

There’s always a tendency to process these kind of stories purely through the headlines, so you should read the full piece to make up your own mind. Some of the remarks are worse than others (raising an annual toast to John Wilkes Booth and comparing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to 9/11 — not great Fourth of July material). None of them are the kinds of things you want to be litigating on the campaign trail.

Of course, you can only be held so culpable for someone else’s beliefs, even if they’re on your payroll. What’s perhaps most interesting is what Hunter has publicly stated about the actual ideological bearings of Paul fils:

Since becoming Paul’s social media director, Hunter has publicly vouched for the senator’s non-interventionist bona fides.

When libertarians and paleoconservatives balked at Paul’s remark last January that “any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States,” Hunter downplayed the comment as a “little rhetorical concession” and said the senator was “play[ing] the game.”

“For every questionable action—support for Mitt Romney, comments about the U.S.’s relationship with Israel … these things do not diminish the overall record of the most libertarian senator since the Founding era,” wrote Hunter on the Southern Avenger website. “Not making these certain diplomatic statements or gestures on occasion, also makes taking these ideas into the mainstream much, much harder. A little rhetorical concession goes a long way.”

“Some say Rand is not Ron because he is ‘willing to play them game,’” Hunter continued. “That’s exactly right. That’s the point—to play it, influence it, and win it as much as you can. The neoconservatives certainly do, to their advantage.”

Hunter has also said that Rand Paul holds the same foreign policy views as his father, Ron Paul.

“The philosophy hasn’t substantively changed [from Ron Paul to Rand Paul]. The methods and style most certainly have.”

What do you make of this news? Does it in any way change your views on Paul as a presidential candidate? How much stock do you put in guilt by association when it comes to political candidates?