Ted Nugent: The voice of America?

CNN
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 3:22pm

Ted Nugent sure knows how to stir controversy.

The rock star turned provocateur has a history of making inflammatory statements, dating back to lyrics in songs such as "Jailbait" in his earlier days.

In case you missed it, Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott came under fire for campaigning with Nugent, who recently called President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel" in a conversation with Guns.com.

The full quote: "I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever-vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America."

Outrage ensued.

Abbott's likely Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, called Nugent's remarks -- and Abbott's appearance with him -- an "insult" to Texans.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul called on Nugent to apologize, which he did... sort of. In an interview on CNN's Erin Burnett on "OutFront," Nugent said he would "stop calling people names."

"Instead of using terms like 'subhuman mongrel,' I'm going to get right to the meat of the matter where our president is a liar. He lies about you can keep your doctor period. Over and over again he lies about Benghazi. He's lying about the IRS," Nugent said.

CNN's Van Jones, host of "Crossfire," called Nugent's remarks racist. Conservatives wrote opinion pieces, including one on CNN by conservative commentator Timothy Stanley, who said he is "sick and tired of being embarrassed" by Nugent.

Nugent insists 'subhuman mongrel' comments not racist, promises to stop 'calling people names'

The former singer's outrageous statements have stacked up over the years. He has called Hillary Clinton a "worthless b****" and Obama a gangster. He said Obama should "suck on his machine gun." Nugent's extreme speech has made a lot of eyes roll. And media outlets, including CNN, have been criticized for giving him a microphone.

But Republican candidates keep campaigning with him.

Despite the controversy, Abbott didn't rule out a future joint appearance. And tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz told CNN he didn't agree with the rocker's comments, but left the door open for a possible future Nugent cameo.

Rep. Steve Stockman, who is running to the right of incumbent Sen. John Cornyn for the Texas Senate seat, invited Nugent to this year's State of the Union address.

And 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepted his endorsement.

That's because Nugent amplifies some Americans' anger at Washington.

Cruz told CNN in a recent interview, "I will note, there are reasons... people listen to him."

Nugent's music career peaked in the late 1970s when his signature single "Cat Scratch Fever" cracked the Top 40 and he was selling out arena-sized venues. The self-proclaimed "Motor City Madman" released his greatest hits album in 1981 but that was followed by dwindling record sales.

He served as a county sheriff in his native Michigan and became an advocate for gun rights, hunters and conservation.

On an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman" in the 1980s, the rocker spouted statistics about gun ownership and crime and the motivations of an "anti-gun cause."

"During the fall... I don't rock and roll, I like to harvest my own food," Nugent added.

He emerged on the national political scene with the rise of the tea party in 2010. His politically incorrect comments on the music stage, where he once said he was "addicted to girls," transferred to the political stage, where he became an outspoken opponent of Obama and the Democratic Party.

Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, said that while Nugent might be "an outlier," he appeals to a segment of the population that some politicians feel they can't ignore.

"There's a base within the Republican Party that's non-trivial," Teixeira added.

Republican strategist and former Romney adviser Kevin Madden said politicians "assume this star power will help them identify with voters and help them get some headlines they might not get if it was just another boring political rally or public event."

But, Madden added, "campaigns have to weigh the risks involved" as well as the possible benefits.

The risks include the increased chance for negative headlines that could turn off a more mainstream audience. On the other hand, an appearance with Nugent might increase the candidate's appeal to the rocker's active supporters.

The local press reported that both Abbott campaign events with Nugent were standing room only. The Times Record reported that attendance at Abbott's event in Wichita Falls in northern Texas near the Oklahoma border "increased significantly" with Nugent's appearance.

More than 1.8 million people like Nugent's Facebook page and in response to the latest controversy, Nugent wrote there, "I seek no attention. I seek no media." He says he wants to "spotlight power abusers & gvt [sic] criminals... to fight the enemies of America infesting our government."

That comment had nearly 50,000 "likes" and included comments of support such as the one from Dan Filkins, who wrote "stand up and fight brother... ted [sic] for president!!!"

Nugent's appearance with Abbott prompted cheers from fellow firebrand Palin. On her Facebook page, she decided to endorse Abbott, writing, "If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!" That comment received more than 20,000 "likes."

Nugent sits on the board of the National Rifle Association and his vehement opposition to most restrictions on firearms attracts the support of many Second Amendment defenders. He also has support from some tea party advocates.

Taylor Budowich, executive director of Tea Party Express, said he is pleased that Nugent apologized for the "mongrel" remark and realized that inflammatory comments distract from his core message. He noted, however, that Nugent has support because he talks about the issues his tea party group cares about, including reducing the size of government and "restoring America" after being "hurt by this administration and past administrations."

But it's more than the themes that attract people to Nugent, Budowich says, it's how he says it. Politicians are politically correct and calculated, framing issues "in a way that is least offensive," Budowich says. But Nugent "speaks a different language," one to which many Americans can relate.

He "speaks from his heart," Budowich said.

But when asked about the offensive things Nugent has said, Budowich defended him, saying he doesn't think Nugent is a hurtful person, just passionate.

Nugent's brother, Jeff, had a similar take. On CNN's "OutFront with Erin Burnett," he said Ted's latest comments were "out of line," but said his brother is passionate and provocative.

"So you put those two things together and it comes out the way you see it. I agree with him on some points, but I disagree vehemently on others."

-- CNN's Dana Bash and Alan Duke contributed to this story.

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