The Republican Party in the era of the Tea Party and the "autopsy" can't make up its mind. Torn between expanding its base so that it can survive in the long term and appeasing its loyalists so it can survive in the short term, the party doesn't know where to go. The choice boils down to winning a few more seats in November and writing off the future of the party. Oddly, November seems to be winning every time.
For Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott the choice seems easy. He chose Ted Nugent, the physical embodiment of the off-the-rails toxicity that Republicans just don't know how to quit. Abbott certainly had to know the stir he'd cause when he invited Nugent to join him on the campaign trail last week.
Ted Nugent is not just a former rocker who happens to be a Republican. Nugent's infamous "subhuman mongrel" slur is just a representative sample of the bile he produces on a regular basis. He has threatened the president, saying, "Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun," told an audience to "keep a fucking gun in your hand, boys" in response to the Obama administration, implied the president is like a coyote who needs to be shot, and said before the 2012 election that if the "vile, evil America-hating" Obama were to be reelected, Nugent would be "either dead or in jail by this time next year."(For the record, Nugent is still very much alive and free to make statements like the above.)
Why listen to Nugent (as People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch does more often than they would probably like)? Because he doesn't just shout his rants from the stage at his concerts. He shares the stage with people like Greg Abbott.
In a time when many Republicans are trying to moderate the rhetoric they use to explain their extreme policies, Greg Abbott is just the latest who apparently has no such concerns. He 's more than happy to provide a platform for Nugent, an unabashedly violent, and unapologetic racist spokesperson who exults in attacking the president- – when the president is Barack Obama, that is.
Nugent has speculated whether "it would have been best had the South won the Civil War"; suggested banning people who owe no federal income tax from voting; lashed out at "those well-fed motherfucker food stamp cocksuckers"; and blamed Trayvon Martin's death on the "mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America."
In other words, Nugent's not the sort of person any reasonable candidate would invite along on the campaign trail. But reason is not the way to prove one's bona fides to a large share of the Tea Party that has taken over the Grand Old Party. When Nugent said in a campaign appearance that "we don't have to question Greg Abbott's courage, because he invited me here today," he was reassuring the base that "autopsy reports" aside, the GOP has no intention of changing.
And that's the problem. Ted Nugent isn't a Greg Abbott gaffe. His presence on the Abbott campaign trail represents a deliberate effort to cultivate the most extreme elements of the Republican base. The party can moderate its positions to attract more voters. Or it can stick with extremism to keep a core of the voters it has. But it can't have it both ways.