Shock rocker/political provocateur Ted Nugent is a new hot issue in the Texas gubernatorial race. The Motor City Madman has appeared onstage with GOP candidate Greg Abbott, and Democrats say they’re livid about this use of Nuge as a campaign prop.
After all, Nugent has said stuff about ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that’s not printable in a family blog because of its explicit references to her anatomy. In January, he called President Obama a “communist-raised subhuman mongrel." CNN’s Wolf Blitzer has noted that this is the sort of language the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust – a rebuttal one fact-check group this week rated as “true."
So here’s our question about the controversy: What was Mr. Abbott thinking? For him, the upside of a Nugent appearance may be small, and the downside considerable. The rocker’s flaming words may sell his eponymous ammunition, but as Mitt Romney discovered in 2012, the uproar Nugent leaves in his wake may help Democrats as much or more than the GOP.
“It reveals Abbott, at the very least, as someone who doesn’t have acute political judgment,” writes Paul Burka of the Texas Monthly, the acerbic dean of the Lone Star State’s political press corps.
Why was enlisting Nugent a questionable tactic? Here’s why:
Abbott is winning anyway. In all likelihood, Abbott is going to succeed Gov. Rick Perry (R) after the 2014 vote. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, in his "Crystal Ball" blog, rates Abbott’s race as “safe Republican." Look at the "Crystal Ball" map – Texas is colored in about as deep a shade of red as you can find.
In the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls for the race, Abbott leads by almost 10 percentage points. (State polling can be iffy, though, and the data here are a little old.)
Nugent changes the subject. The Democratic candidate, state Sen. Wendy Davis, hasn’t had a great winter image-wise. Press reports have accused her of distorting aspects of her biography to make her account of rising from childhood poverty sound more dramatic and difficult than it actually was.
In that context, Nugent is a lifeline. It gives her a matching, ethically charged subject to talk about. She’s already using the rocker’s appearance to raise money. As the Dallas Morning News reports Thursday, she’s fired off a fundraising appeal to supporters that charges the Abbott-and-Nugent show insulted “every father, every mother, every family in Texas."
Meanwhile, Abbott is “fleeing reporter questions about Ted Nugent," writes Wayne Slater of the Morning News.
Cannon, loose. You never know what Nugent is going to say in a political context, which, to a politician, makes him both a formidable foe and a dangerous friend. After all, this is a guy who, after the State of the Union address in 2013, criticized both Mr. Obama and the Republican Party leadership, saying of the latter that they did not fight the president “because somehow they have lost their [deleted]."
And once you appear with him, the press is going to endlessly inquire whether you agree with the stuff he says. (Yes, comedian Bill Maher has said reprehensible things about Sarah Palin, and that should go for him, too. But he’s not campaigning with Democrats on the 2014 ballot.) Plus, Nugent nationalizes. That means reporters will ask other Republican figures if they agree with him, given his past statements. It also means Democrats across the country will share the latest Nugent outrage on social media and get all fired up.
Bottom line: We agree with NBC’s "First Read," which calls the Nugent appearance on “unforced error” on Abbott’s part.
“Neither Abbott nor Davis seems to be running a Texas campaign right now; instead, they appear to be hijacked more by national politics,” write NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro.