Cliven Bundy Boxes GOP Into a Corner

And party leaders haven’t been doing enough to avoid connections to racist figures.

BUNKERVILLE, NV - APRIL 24: Rancher Cliven Bundy speaks during a news conference near his ranch on April 24, 2014 in Bunkerville, Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management and Bundy have been locked in a dispute for a couple of decades over grazing rights on public lands. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
National Journal
James Oliphant
April 27, 2014, 7:44 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee’s top spokes­man, Sean Spicer, took to CNN Fri­day to dis­tance his party from Nevada ranch­er Cliven Bundy and slam the me­dia for con­nect­ing the two. “The is­sue of Cliven Bundy has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with this party. Zero,” an in­dig­nant Spicer said.

Un­for­tu­nately for the GOP, it hasn’t been that easy to get off the hook.

The reas­ons why are less about wheth­er Re­pub­lic­an law­makers by and large agree with the pu­erile re­marks Bundy made to The New York Times; they don’t — and many were quick to con­demn them. And it isn’t even so much about the party’s lack of di­versity, both with­in the party and among its base.

Rather, it’s about some in the party’s un­ceas­ing will­ing­ness, now in year six, to em­brace any cause that can help drive a wedge between the elect­or­ate and Pres­id­ent Obama, re­gard­less of how sus­pect it might be. It’s about fa­vor­ing hot rhet­or­ic and red meat over reas­on and about the re­fus­al of the GOP’s lead­ers to stand up to some of its more rad­ic­al ele­ments.

More spe­cific­ally, it’s about the nar­rat­ive that Obama is power-mad, the en­for­cer of an ever-en­croach­ing fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that is a threat to life and liberty. (Not only is it an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, but it’s en­tirely at odds with the in­side-Wash­ing­ton view among some crit­ics that the pres­id­ent is lack­ing when it comes to us­ing the tools of of­fice.)

In that con­text, Bundy was made-to-or­der un­til he re­vealed him­self to be old-school in all the wrong ways. Two of the prime pur­vey­ors of the meme hap­pen to be two of the most prom­in­ent con­tenders for the 2016 pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They, along with Fox News host Sean Han­nity, voiced sym­pathy for the ranch­er, nev­er mind the fact that Bundy was an avowed law-break­er with a taste for armed in­sur­rec­tion whose be­lief that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has no au­thor­ity over him stirs the echoes of the ‘50s — the 1850s.

A key part of the Cruz-Paul-Han­nity nar­rat­ive is that Obama’s elec­tion has ushered in a peri­od of de­cline of Amer­ic­an val­ues, that the ba­sic so­cial or­der is at risk. As Ari­zona con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist Con­stantin Quer­ard told me last month in Phoenix, “We’re get­ting close to the pre­cip­ice. When you feel things slip­ping way, things be­come ur­gent.”

On Fri­day, Wayne LaPierre, the of­ten-apo­ca­lyptic head of the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation, said that very thing in ad­dress­ing the group’s an­nu­al con­ven­tion in In­di­ana­pol­is. “Gun rights, where we are right now in this coun­try, have be­come a meta­phor for a feel­ing it’s kind of all slip­ping away,” he told the crowd.

“Al­most every­where you look, something has gone wrong,” he con­tin­ued. “You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core val­ues we be­lieve in, the things we care about most, are chan­ging.”

It would be easy to dis­miss LaPierre’s words as a simple fun­drais­ing pitch if not for the fact that Mitch Mc­Con­nell, po­ten­tially the next Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, fol­lowed him to the po­di­um and com­pared the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to a “ba­nana re­pub­lic.”

“They are try­ing to burn the rights of those they dis­agree with,” Mc­Con­nell said. “Wheth­er it is your right to bear arms or it is your right to speak up without fear of gov­ern­ment in­tim­id­a­tion.”

It isn’t that great a leap from Mc­Con­nell and LaPierre’s words to the cries of ” jack-booted thugs” dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, but Obama’s status as the na­tion’s first Afric­an-Amer­ic­an pres­id­ent and the demo­graph­ic shift he rep­res­ents provides new in­ter­pret­a­tions to as­ser­tions of “core val­ues” slip­ping away.

Mc­Con­nell him­self neatly en­cap­su­lates the push-pull with­in the party, an es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure try­ing to re­cast him­self as a Tea Party Hero in re­sponse to a primary threat, a one-time Sen­ate deal­maker turned com­mit­ted ob­struc­tion­ist.

Mc­Con­nell has had a front-row seat in which to wit­ness the rise of Paul and the strain of Re­pub­lic­an­ism he rep­res­ents — and he has rarely shown much will­ing­ness to take his fel­low Ken­tucki­an on. Just two months ago, at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, Paul warned of Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive-or­der push. “A tyranny will en­sue,” he said. Cruz, for his part, has likened the pres­id­ent to a ” cor­rupt dic­tat­or.” (Google “Obama­care” or “Com­mon Core” and “tyranny” is likely to be one of the first words to sur­face.)

None of this is new, of course. Obama’s elec­tion seemed to grant li­cense for Re­pub­lic­an politi­cians to re­define ac­cept­able dis­course — from Rep. Joe Wilson yelling “you lie” dur­ing a pres­id­en­tial ad­dress, to Sarah Pal­in de­fend­ing Ted Nu­gent, to Jim De­Mint giv­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment no cred­it for end­ing slavery. And yes, Demo­crats have their rad­ic­al ele­ments too and their own over-the-top me­dia mo­ments.

But like it or not, Cruz and Paul are two of the most cha­ris­mat­ic per­so­nas the party has — and its es­tab­lish­ment wing can’t seem to find someone to rally be­hind to coun­ter­mand their in­flu­ence in ad­vance of 2016, which means their power is likely to grow, not shrink. And that means that GOP of­fi­cials such as Sean Spicer can’t be sur­prised when their ac­tions are viewed as the party’s own.

What We're Following See More »
HE ‘WILL NEVER BE PRESIDENT’
Warren Goes After Trump Yet Again
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage. 

FIRST CHANGE IN FOUR DECADES
Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

Source:
NO MORE INDEPENDENT VOTERS?
GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Source:
LEVERAGE
Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Source:
EFFECTIVE NEXT MONTH
House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.

Source:
×