Pete Wehner, one of the most intelligent and reasonable conservatives around, writes in Commentary magazine about Republican politicians associating with Ted Nugent after all of the horrible, unconscionable things he’s said. He slams Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott and others pretty hard:
Mr. Nugent said he used “street-fighter terminology.” Actually, he used the language of Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South.
What Nugent said is ugly and wicked and racist. And if asked about it anyone, including any Republican politician, should say so. They should say so instantaneously and unhesitatingly and unambiguously, without complaining about media double standards. They can certainly do better than Senator Ted Cruz, who distanced himself from the sentiments of Nugent while praising him for “fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.” And when asked if he would campaign with Nugent, Cruz answered, “I haven’t yet, and I’m going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.” Really? Why avoid engaging in this hypothetical? Why not say something like, oh, how about this: “Are you out of your mind? Absolutely not! Under no circumstances“?
Of course what Mr. Cruz did was not as depressing as what the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin did, which was to endorse Mr. Abbott on her Facebook page on Wednesday with this Palinian moral logic, stating, “If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me.” (And while you’re reading Ms. Palin’s Facebook page, don’t forget to check out her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas in which she “calls for bringing back the freedom to express the Christian values of the season.”)
And certainly Greg Abbott, who has campaigned with Nugent, should repudiate the rock guitarist in the strongest possible way. (The New York Times reports Mr. Abbott said in a statement that Nugent “rightly apologized,” but he offered no apology himself for campaigning with Nugent. “This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way,” Abbott said. “It’s time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans.”)…But the fact that Republicans seem to be struggling with how to handle a repulsive figure like Mr. Nugent frankly does not speak well of them. What they don’t understand is that these kinds of moments have resonance with voters. They are symbolic; but symbolism matters, and in this case it speaks to something real and deep. Will a party and a movement police its own ranks when it comes to haters?
It isn’t enough to plead ignorance or blame the media for elevating the story. It’s out there now–and because Nugent is involved in GOP politics, campaigning with a would-be governor, it’s understandable why it’s a story.
There are several possible explanations for why Republicans would not denounce Nugent and his statement in unqualified terms. One is that they aren’t all that offended by what Nugent said. A second is Nugent is on their “team” and therefore needs to be treated with kid gloves. A third explanation is that they fear that in denouncing Nugent they will upset elements of the GOP base.
Any of these explanations is an indictment.
There are many things going on here, I think. One is that Republicans have long been annoyed that so many celebrities in music, movies and other artistic forms are liberals. That is entirely predictable, of course; the psychology of the artist simply rarely lends itself to upholding tradition and authority. Quite the opposite, in fact. But Republicans have long jumped at any chance to associate themselves with any performer, even moldy, washed-up has-beens like Ted Nugent and Meatloaf.
But there is also the Tea Party effect. The conservative base is so driven by anger and bitterness that it will embrace virtually anyone who spews venom at their political enemies. The stronger the rhetoric — Nazis! Communists! Muslims! — the more loudly they cheer. It’s the politics of resentment over rationality.