For well over a year now, Americans have been treated to the spectacle of GOP leaders plotting and planning and searching for clever ways to assure the public that it is not the party of old, angry, testosterone-heavy, and most of all white grievance politics. Granted, this is a delicate task, calling for a thoughtful, multi-faceted approach. But how’s this for a modest starting point: Stop sucking up to freak-show, has-been rocker Ted Nugent?
Honestly, it was sad enough when Rep. Steve Stockman took Ted as his date to the State of the Union address this month. Then again, these days, people pretty much expect that level of adolescent fuck-you from rank-and-file House members. But a leading gubernatorial candidate from our second-most populous state?
Sure enough, there was Nugent in all his unhinged glory, campaigning in North Texas on Tuesday for state attorney general and gubernatorial wannabe Greg Abbott. Texas Dems understandably threw a fit, pointing to some of Ted’s latest ravings, most notably his calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”
Abbott’s team pushed back limply. Before the appearances, they pooh-poohed concerns about Nugent, praising him as a great patriot. As Abbott’s spokesman informed Politico:
Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights—especially the Second Amendment rights cherished by Texans. … While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our Constitution.
Likewise, following the rally in Denton, Abbott told reporters:
Sen. Davis knows she is suffering with voters because of her flipping and flopping on 2nd Amendment gun laws. And she knows that Ted Nugent calls her out on her disregard for 2nd Amendment rights. We are going to expose Sen. Davis’ weaknesses on the 2nd Amendment and show that in this area and in so many other areas, she represents the liberalism of Barack Obama that is so bad for Texas.”
Oh, so this is all about Abbott’s love for the Second Amendment? Bullshit. Yes, Nugent is loud and proud about his fondness for playing with guns. But the Texas governor’s race is not about protecting gun rights. Wendy Davis is no Michael Bloomberg here. She has voted to allow guns in cars on college campuses and to put armed marshals in schools. The woman supports open-carry laws, for God’s sake. She may not strut around begging the president to “suck on my machine gun” ala Nugent, but that’s only because she’s not a professional maniac.
Abbott’s snuggling up to Nugent is not about the Second Amendment or the Fourth Amendment or any part of the Constitution. It is about courting and stoking the absolute ugliest, most paranoid, most ass-backwards elements of the GOP coalition. We’re not talking here about garden-variety gun lovers or small-government enthusiasts or evangelical values voters. We’re talking about people who find it quaint when Nugent starts raving about how black people are lazy or how disgusting he finds gays or how Hillary Clinton is a “toxic cunt” and “a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.” (Media Matters has a sprawling, multi-decade sampling of Ted’s greatest hits here.) We’re talking about people who find it hilarious when Nugent waves his little guns around and froths, “Hey Hillary! You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”
A great patriot indeed.
To be fair, Abbott is hardly the only prominent Republican to embrace the unhinged rocker. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the very man Abbott is looking to succeed, asked his good buddy Ted to headline Perry’s 2007 inaugural ball. (With a respectful nod to Texas’s increasingly diverse populace, Nugent showed up clad in a confederate-flag shirt and started talking smack about the state’s non-English speaking residents.) Nor are Texas pols the only Nugent courters. Even poor Mitt Romney sought Nugent’s (grudging) endorsement two years ago.
That said, it was Romney’s—and the broader GOP’s—epic failure that touched off this recent round of soul-searching among Republicans. Sure, the trials and tribulations of Obamacare have given them breathing space of late, but the times they are a changing—along with the nation’s demographics—and Republicans’ cozying up to characters like Nugent is not a recipe for a healthy national party.
The morning after Ted and Greg’s road show, I emailed a handful of Republican strategists. Subject line: “Ted Nugent.” Question: “Why? That’s all I want to know. Why?” Not even the most conservative among them had a serious answer.
As for Gregg Abbott, when pressed by reporters about the appropriateness of his new pal’s comments, the candidate, predictably, claimed ignorance. “I don’t know what he may have done or said in his background. What I do know that Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution.”
I like to think that Abbott is not actually this stupid. It’s far less troubling to assume that the man likely to become the next governor of Texas is a shameless liar than to imagine that he’d embrace the famously vile Nugent without some vague sense of what made the guy a wingnut celebrity to begin with. (Hint for the would-be governor: It’s not Nugent’s 40-year-old hit song.)
Then again, maybe Abbott really is that clueless. At this point, Nugent has been spouting racist, sexist, generally insane invective for so long that the ugly particulars of any one rant quickly dissolve into his vast sea of lunacy. People tend to roll their eyes and give Nugent a pass because the ranting is seen as just part of his schtick. I mean, he’s the Motor City Madman, right? And, this being America, the guy can say whatever the hell he wants, right?
That he can—and does. But so long as Republicans keep hitching their wagon to a star like Nugent, they really shouldn’t wonder why more and more Americans see the party as defined by an unsettling blend of rage and ignorance.