Ted Nugent: Why can't GOP quit 'Motor City Madman'?

Ted Nugent draws big crowds. That's why Republicans are willing to take on the outrage he so often provokes. It's also a sign of how deeply polarized the nation's political life has become.

Ron Baselice/The Dallas Morning News/AP
Rocker Ted Nugent (l.) introduces Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott (R) on Feb. 18, during a stop in Denton, Texas, to promote early voting. Wendy Davis is the Democratic opponent.

Shock rocker Ted Nugent’s campaign appearances with Texas GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott have roiled the US political firmament. Democrats have called on Texas Attorney General Abbott and other top Republicans to denounce Mr. Nugent for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel," among other things. Abbott, hasn’t done that, saying the Motor City Madman is a strong supporter of the Constitution and Second Amendment gun rights.

Among Republican national figures, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky has unambiguously censured Nugent. The Nuge’s “derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize,” Senator Paul tweeted on Thursday.

Another possible 2016 presidential contender, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, said he did not agree with Nugent’s sentiments and wouldn’t use Nugent’s words. But he noted “there are reasons ... people listen to him," in an interview with CNN.

We’ve opined that Nugent’s political persona may help Democrats as much, if not more, than Republicans. He’s a useful bogeyman with which to fundraise and fire up the left. He’s a distraction that can deflect attention from Democratic candidates’ own problems.

Given that, what’s his appeal to presumably rational Republican politicians? Mitt Romney sought Nugent’s endorsement in 2012, too. Why can’t they leave such a forceful political provocateur alone?

Enthusiasm. One reason is that he generates excitement on the right, particularly among gun rights proponents. In Texas, Abbott is almost certain to win the Republican gubernatorial primary, and he’s a heavy favorite against Democrat Wendy Davis for the general election. But his aides have noted that attendance at the two Abbott rallies featuring Nugent was triple their predictions. That sort of crowd draw is hard for any politician to turn down, even one who’s cruising to victory.

Anger. After six years of Mr. Obama as president, many Republicans are fed up and can’t take it anymore. They’ve seen him push through a sweeping health-care law they vehemently oppose and, in general, change the country in ways they resent. Nugent is the id of this mind-set, someone who expresses the anger many in the GOP feel, however harshly.

Nugent is co-chair of Republican Sid Miller’s campaign for Texas agriculture commissioner. Mr. Miller’s website prominently features a video of Nugent asking donors to give his “blood brother” $20. Asked for comment about Nugent’s statements, spokesman Todd Smith said Miller would not “use the same words," according to the Dallas Morning News. But the candidate “shares a mutual disdain for [Obama’s] policies” with the rocker, said Mr. Smith.

Polarization. It’s no secret that US politics is perhaps more polarized than ever before. That’s a process that began in the 1960s when conservative Southern Democrats started migrating into the GOP, even though it was the party of Lincoln. In that environment, partisan identity is a powerful indicator of attitude. The more sorted and separate our political teams become, the more we see our opponents as not just wrong but destructive and possibly illegitimate.

Lilliana Mason, a visiting scholar at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has a very interesting piece on this at the "Monkey Cage" political science blog. She writes that political polarization is making us prejudiced. Team victory is becoming all.

“The more sorted and powerful our political identities become, the less capable we are of treating our political opponents with fairness and equanimity.... This means that no matter what the political debate of the day is officially about, it’s rooted in the partisan bias, eager action, and exaggerated anger that come directly out of our political identities,” Mason writes.

That’s a fertile environment for the provocateurs, posers, and professional trolls of both political parties.

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