In response to Sen. Rand Paul’s defense of his book co-author and Senate staffer Jack “Southern Avenger” Hunter’s neo-Confederate sentiments (which he seems to regard as a “youthful indiscretion”), David Frum tweets this:

Rand Paul: Republican party needs to be big tent on issues of treason, slavery, and presidential assassination.

There is a serious point here that goes beyond the obvious snark. Whatever else he is–call him libertarian, “libertarian populist” or paleoconservative–Rand Paul is part of the dominant faction of Republicans who are forever railing against RINOs who are insufficiently loyal to “conservative principles” or who are excessively willing to compromise with the hated opposition. “Big tent” arguments for compromise, accommodation of public opinion, or forms of “outreach” that don’t just involve restating the same old conservative viewpoints more frequently and loudly, are constantly under attack.

Yet the perceived need for tactical alliances with, or personal relationships involving, discredited and discreditable right-wing voices seems to trump every other consideration. Call it an extension of the famous Goldwater axiom that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” or just an emulation of the old Popular Front principle of pas d’ennemis a gauche–it’s deeply ingrained and infuriating.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.