Published by James O’Toole on Sunday, 23 February 2014 9:49 pm.
By James M. Perry
Republican politics in Texas, conservative for many years, now seems to be largely wacko.
Take the case of Greg Abbott, the state’s 50th attorney general and his party’s leading candidate to succeed Rick Scott as governor. Abbott has been traveling around the state in the company of Tim Nugent, the rock ‘n roll guitarist (his hits include “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wango Tango”). This is the same Ted Nugent who, in his most infamous line, said, “I have obviously failed to prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel… work his way into the top office of authority in the United States.”
“Subhuman mongrel?” I’m far from the first to note that’s the kind of language Hitler’s Nazis used to justify their extermination of millions of Jews.
Nugent has apologized, more or less, for his vile language, and Abbott and other Republicans have insisted they’d never say such things. Abbott’s excuse, apparently, is that Nugent appeals to the party’s base. He brings lots of voters to Abbott’s campaign appearances.
This isn’t how conservatism started in Texas. Its founding father was a good-natured investment broker named Peter O’Donnell, from Dallas. It was O’Donnell who called a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April of 1963 to announce he and others had founded a Draft Goldwater Committee intent on electing Barry Goldwater president and creating a smaller government and lower taxes. O’Donnell went on to establish with his wife a philanthropic foundation (the fifth largest in Texas) that has contributed millions of dollars to improve higher education in the state. I doubt O’Donnell would recognize these people today as genuine conservatives.
All this hullabaloo over Nugent’s role in the Abbott campaign is probably a godsend for his likely Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, the state senator who staged an 11-hour filibuster against an anti-abortion bill. She made the evening news everywhere and sent millions of people twittering. The pink sneakers were inspirational.
It won’t be easy, though. No Democrat has won statewide office (and Texas has 27 of them) since 1994. Democratic hopes in Texas grow out of the state’s demographics –the state is slowly turning Hispanic (Obama won 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012), and in time it’s almost certain to switch from red to blue. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told a room full of Lone Star Republicans recently that Texas “will be a Democratic state in ten years if you don’t change.”
Abbott, under normal circumstances, might be running a fairly traditional campaign for a right-wing Republican these days. He might be noting that as attorney general he sued the Federal government 30 times. “I go into the office, I sue the government. and I go home.” He might be talking about the state’s economy, a job-making machine. He might be talking about how much he admires guns. Even better, he might be reminding voters how he won court approval for a statue of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in front of the state capitol in Austin. The Texas press doesn’t want to hear any of that. They want to talk to the elusive Mr. Abbott and ask him about Ted Nugent.
His own story is intriguing. Thirty years ago, when he was 26, a falling tree paralyzed him. He’s been in a wheel chair ever since. He sometimes jokes about it. “Some politicians talk about having a steel spine,” he says. “I actually have one.” (He sued the tree’s owner and collected $ 10 million.)
The problem for rational Republicans here in Texas and elsewhere is this wild and wacko base, composed mostly of aging white males. If politicians keep bringing in the likes of Ted Nugent to appease them, there’s a sliver of a chance the turnaround in Texas might come sooner than most people expect. The lady in the pink sneakers is counting on it.