As a rule, it’s a good idea to ignore Ted Nugent’s ridiculous antics and disgusting rhetoric. He’s obviously a fringe extremist who isn’t to be taken seriously – except when he’s drawing Secret Service attention for threatening the president and other U.S. leaders he doesn’t like.
But despite how little Nugent has in common with the American mainstream, he nevertheless seems to pop up from time to time as a player in Republican politics. Last year, a GOP member of Congress invited Nugent to be a guest at the State of the Union address. In 2012, he tried to rally support for Mitt Romney. And this year, Nugent is hitting the campaign trail with a Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, on Tuesday defended his decision to campaign with the pro-gun musician and conservative commentator Ted Nugent a month after Mr. Nugent called President Obama a “communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”The campaign events and Mr. Nugent’s long history of inflammatory speech stirred outrage among Democrats in the state…. But Mr. Abbott defended the move, calling Mr. Nugent at the first of two campaign events a “fighter for freedom.” Mr. Nugent, speaking at that event to a crowd of Mr. Abbott’s supporters at a restaurant in the Dallas suburb of Denton, said the attorney general was “my friend” and “my blood brother.”
At one of yesterday’s joint appearances, reporters asked Abbott about his comfort campaigning alongside an activist who said undocumented immigrants should be treated like “indentured servants.” The gubernatorial candidate replied, “I can’t read everything.”
The larger takeaway from this isn’t to point at Nugent’s nonsense or question Abbott’s dubious choice in “blood brothers.” Rather, this is the latest reminder that the parties seem to play by very different rules.
There is no progressive version of Ted Nugent, but from time to time, Democrats distance themselves from prominent voices deemed controversial by the right. Remember when Dems couldn’t move quickly enough to denounce Hilary Rosen after an out-of-context quote about Ann Romney two years ago? Remember when Michael Moore used to be welcome at Democratic rallies, right up until conservatives complained the filmmaker’s political views were too provocative?
Dems clearly want to keep figures deemed “controversial” at arm’s length, whether the accused deserve it or not, working from the assumption that the public judges political leaders by the company they keep.
The right has few similar concerns. Rush Limbaugh’s greatest hits include some jaw-dropping offenses, but Republicans still clamor to be on his show. Over-the-top antics from religious right leaders like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell has never stopped Republicans from cozying up to the televangelists and speaking at their events and colleges.
And Ted Nugent’s rhetorical record features truly ugly tirades, but he’s still a welcome figure for many Republican officials.
If there were a comparable figure on the left, there’s simply no way a Democratic candidate for statewide office would welcome him or her anywhere near to share a stage (or a Democratic member of Congress would extend a State of the Union invitation). But because the parties play by different rules, no one seems especially surprised by the GOP’s willingness to embrace the entertainer sometimes called the “Motor City Madman.”