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Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has established himself as one of the Republican Party’s most influential members, and a legitimate early contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016. But the biggest hurdle to Paul’s ascension as a national leader may be the man whose vast political network enabled his improbable rise in the first place: his father, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The elder Paul attracted legions of diehard supporters with his longshot 2012 bid, cementing his role as the public face of the GOP’s libertarian wing — a mantle that was neatly transferred to his son after the latter’s highly publicized filibuster over the Obama administration’s drone strike policy.

But his campaign also shed light on the darker aspects of Paul’s past, such as his series of racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic newsletters, and his close association with white supremacists and neo-Confederates, among other unsavory characters.

Now Paul’s disturbing connections, which he vehemently denied during the 2012 campaign, are on display for all to see at his new think tank, The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

As James Kirchick reports in The Daily Beast, the institute’s board is stocked with all manner of 9/11 truthers, supporters of authoritarian regimes, anti-Semites, neo-Confederates, and more. Among others, Paul’s associates now include:

—Lew Rockwell, a member of the right-wing fringe whom Paul explicitely disavowed during his presidential campaign, and who recently compared law enforcement after the Boston Marathon bombing to Nazi stormtroopers.

—John Laughland, who denies that the Bosnian genocide ever took place, and maintains that former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was convicted by a “kangaroo court.”

—Eric Margolis, who denies any conclusive proof linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11th attacks, and instead suggests that they may have been “a plot by America’s far right or by Israel or a giant cover-up.”

—Michael Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer who has described American Jews as a “fifth column” intent on sabatoging American foreign policy to benefit Israel.

—Walter Block, who believes that the Confederacy should have won the Civil War, and believes that America’s current foreign policy can be blamed on “the monster Lincoln.”

Those five names barely scratch the surface of the unsettling information that Kirchick has uncovered in his must-read article.

Although Ron Paul never had a realistic chance of winning the presidency, he still recognized that he had no choice but to disavow his connection with this rogues’ gallery of lunatics to legitimize his candidacy. But now, while his son has a very serious chance to compete for the Republican nomination in his own right, the senior Paul is drawing these disturbing figures closer than ever.

This presents a very serious problem for Rand Paul, who has presented himself as the man who can reverse the Republican Party’s dismal performance with minority voters, particularly African-Americans. Given his own troubling statements about the Civil Rights Act, the Kentucky senator would have already had trouble convincing voters that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights.” With his father openly partnering with neo-Confederates, that mission — along with Paul’s equally critical task of hanging on to the moderate and independent voters who have inflated his poll numbers — may be totally impossible.

Starting with his surprising decision to endorse Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign before his father had ended his own, Rand Paul has taken great pains to present himself as more mainstream than his father, and consequently as a more realistic presidential candidate. But as long as his father persists with his fringe right-wing activity — or unless Rand Paul does the unthinkable, and publicly disavows his father — Rand may never come any closer to the presidency than Ron.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

Screenshot from Juice Media's 'Honest Government Ad'

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