Democrats are making hay out of Greg Abbott’s event with Ted Nugent in Wichita Falls yesterday, and it’s easy to understand why. In almost any other state, Nugent’s long history of extreme racist, sexist and violent rhetoric would make him politically radioactive, and he’d be kept at a distance from campaign events by armed guards. His embrace by Abbott is symptom of a deeper dysfunction in the state’s conservative base. But it’s a dysfunction that goes deeper than Abbott—Nugent’s grubby handprints are all over races in Texas. Somehow, he’s established himself as a bit player in a political scene in which candidates will do anything—anything—for conservative legitimacy.
Former state Rep. Sid Miller, a GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner, wanted the Nuge bump so badly Miller made him his campaign treasurer. U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman touts his support—and though Nugent didn’t endorse him, Nugent’s decision not to endorse Cornyn either made headlines. In November, he told a radio station that he was routinely contacted by major Republican figures around the country, saying that he “works closely with Ted Cruz” and did the same “with Scott Walker’s team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies. I’ve worked with different sheriffs and different attorney generals. I work closely with Greg Abbott and Governor Perry in Texas.”
That may be empty braggadocio, but consider that mild-mannered Mitt Romney actively solicited Nugent’s endorsement as a big part of his plan to energize conservatives.
Who’s Nugent, exactly? He’s the 1970s shock rocker who recently called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” and a “piece of shit” who should “suck on my machine gun.” In 2012, he won himself a visit from the Secret Service when, at the NRA’s annual convention, he swore that he would be “dead or in jail by this time next year” if Obama won re-election. He called Hillary Clinton a “worthless bitch,” and other female politicians “fat pigs” and “dirty whores.” He’s bragged about sleeping with underage girls. He wrote that immigrants “should be treated like indentured servants,” and called Trayvon Martin a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe.” He thinks “there are black mobs across America that are guilty of the worst racism since the Klan,” and argues African-Americans can fix “the black problem” if they just put their “heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life.”
Here’s what he told High Times magazine in 1977 about how he dodged the draft:
I got my physical notice 30 days prior to. Well, on that day I ceased cleansing my body. No more brushing my teeth, no more washing my hair, no baths, no soap, no water. Thirty days of debris build. I stopped shavin’ and I was 18, had a little scraggly beard, really looked like a hippie. I had long hair, and it started gettin’ kinky, matted up. Then two weeks before, I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips, Pepsi, beer-stuff I never touched-buttered poop, little jars of Polish sausages, and I’d drink the syrup, I was this side of death, Then a week before, I stopped going to the bathroom. I did it in my pants. poop, piss the whole shot. My pants got crusted up.
See, I approached the whole thing like, Ted Nugent, cool hard-workin’ dude, is gonna wreak havoc on these imbeciles in the armed forces. I’m gonna play their own game, and I’m gonna destroy ‘em. Now my whole body is crusted in poop and piss. I was ill. And three or four days before, I started stayin’ awake. I was close to death, but I was in control. I was extremely antidrug as I’ve always been, but I snorted some crystal methedrine.
He told a similar story to at least one other magazine, but later cleaned up the tale by saying he’d received a student deferment instead. (Though his records show he did fail his physical.)
Now, no one’s begrudging Nugent’s right to be an immoral, hateful asshole. Plenty of great artists are assholes. But you won’t see Woody Allen stumping for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and you won’t see R. Kelly posing with California’s Jerry Brown. It’s amazing that so many Texas GOPers are willing to bear-hug Nugent. We’re a long way from the party of William F. Buckley.
Abbott’s team more or less copped to employing Nugent cynically—a senior aide told CNN they were “only bringing on the gun rights activist to help spur voter turnout among the base.” (How much Abbott really needs to juice turnout for a primary in which he’s basically unopposed is unclear.) But using Nugent this way communicates to “the base” that he’s a serious figure and should be taken seriously—it makes the Nugent problem worse. Nugent’s getting more from this than Abbott is. And if you’re hoping for the Republican Party in Texas to straighten out and ditch the stranglehold of the fringe, that’s a crying shame.