A little over a year ago, right-wing rancher Cliven Bundy and some of his well-armed friends forced a dangerous confrontation with federal law enforcement. Cooler heads prevailed when the Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate the situation, and thankfully no one was hurt.
But Bundy quickly became a cause celebre in far-right circles, celebrated by Fox News and Republican officials, right up until the rancher’s racist views came to light. Conservatives who were cheering Bundy on quickly discovered the problems with celebrating an unhinged activist who claimed to be an expert on “the negro” and who believes black people were “better off as slaves.”
Soon after, the Nevada affiliate of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity started scrubbing its online messages offering praise for Bundy and his radical campaign.
Given this history, why in the world would Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul choose to spend time with Cliven Bundy? MSNBC’s Eric Levitz reported yesterday:
The Kentucky senator met the indebted rancher on Monday, when Paul held a question-and-answer session for “about 50 supporters and activists interested in land rights,” in the town of Mesquite, Nevada, the Associated Press reported. […]“In general, I think we’re in tune with each other. I don’t think we need to ask Washington, D.C. for this land. It’s our land,” Bundy told the AP after his meeting with Paul.
Some of the initial reports suggest their “meeting” was fairly innocuous, with Bundy simply attending a Rand Paul event in Nevada. Candidates can’t always control who shows up at a gathering open to the public, so it wouldn’t necessarily be the senator’s fault if Bundy appeared at a campaign Q&A session.
But according to Bundy, there’s far more to it.
The right-wing rancher, who doesn’t even recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, told Politico that he had a private, 45-minute discussion with the Kentucky Republican. In fact, according to Bundy, Paul hosted the Q&A, after which Bundy claims to have been “escorted by Paul’s aides to a back room where he and the Republican 2016 contender spoke for approximately 45 minutes.”
A Paul campaign spokesperson denied this version of events, though the denial didn’t specifically address whether or not the senator met specifically with Bundy. Paul spokesman Sergio Gor told Politico, “There were no scheduled meetings at Senator Paul’s stop in Mesquite. He spoke to many people who came to this public event, none for 45 minutes and none planned.”
But that doesn’t fully address the situation. Does this mean Rand Paul had an unscheduled meeting with Bundy? Maybe the two met privately, but their discussion was briefer than Bundy claims?
I reached out to a campaign spokesperson for clarification, but I have not yet heard back.
For his part, the rancher added he only expected to briefly exchange pleasantries with the senator, and he was pleasantly surprised to have a lengthy, substantive conversation with the GOP presidential candidate.
Looking back over the last several years, Rand Paul’s associations with fringe radicals has long been a point of concern. If he palled around with an unhinged, racist activist who led an armed confrontation with law enforcement and fails to recognize the legitimacy of the American government, it would seem the senator has some explaining to do.
Perhaps the Republican White House hopeful can explain, for example, why Cliven Bundy came away from the event believing that he and Paul are “in tune with each other.”