Controversy surrounding Republican Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott's decision to campaign with National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent -- after Nugent called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” -- demonstrates how far-right media figures can damage the GOP brand.
While the Abbott campaign initially feigned ignorance of Nugent's hateful and alienating rhetoric, the “subhuman mongrel” slur received substantial media attention when it was made public in January.
As the controversy unfolded, Nugent, who is also a spokesman for the Outdoor Channel, was also widely derided for his profane and derogatory descriptions of women, leading some to point out that Abbott's campaign decision was at odds with the GOP's purported plan to provide better outreach to women and minorities.
A look back at the how the story progressed is below.
Firearms enthusiast website Guns.com published a video interview with Nugent conducted at the gun industry's annual trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nugent attended the show as a representative of the Outdoor Channel weeks after inking a multi-year “brand ambassador” deal with the hunting and fishing network. An article accompanying the video did not mention Nugent's description of Obama as a “subhuman mongrel,” but the remark was included in the video footage.
Media Matters published a blog post highlighting Nugent's description of Obama as “a Chicago communist raised communist educated communist nurtured subhuman mongrel” and Nugent's claim that Obama and other liberal politicians should face “the just due punishment” for treason.
MSNBC host Ed Shultz devoted an Ed Show segment to Nugent's remark, condemning Nugent's “racist tirade.” Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, said on his show the same night that Nugent had “concocted a depiction of President Obama so vitriolic and immodest, it makes you question the mindset of a person who can slew filth like this so handily.”
In a Dallas Morning News article that raised Nugent's recent “subhuman mongrel” comment, Christy Hoppe reported that Nugent was scheduled to join Abbott at campaign rallies in Denton and Wichita Falls on February 18.
The Texas Democratic Party issued a press release condemning Abbott's decision to campaign with Nugent. Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa stated, “Just last month, Ted Nugent called President Barack Obama a 'subhuman mongrel' and 'gangster.' He spews hate against our first African-American President and in return, Attorney General Greg Abbott welcomes him to the campaign trail. Is this how Abbott celebrates Black History Month?”
Women's group Annie's List also issued a press release highlighting Nugent's vile commentary on women, with the group's executive director Grace Garcia noting, “Nugent has used terms to describe female political leaders such as 'brain-dead soulless idiot,' 'varmints,' 'fat pigs,' 'dirty whores,' 'worthless bitch' and more that I do not care to repeat. It's hate speech, plain and simple.”
An Abbott campaign spokesperson dismissed criticism of the Nugent campaign appearance, stating, “Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights -- especially the Second Amendment rights cherished by Texans. While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our Constitution.”
The condemnations triggered media interest in Texas, but the campaign events went on as planned. At the events Nugent described Abbott as his “blood brother” and remarked, “We don't have to question Greg Abbott's courage because he invited me here today.” Abbott told reporters he was not aware of Nugent's inflammatory commentary.
Wendy Davis, Abbott's likely Democratic opponent in the governor's race, issued a statement: “Greg Abbott's embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan -- every man, woman, husband, and father. If this is Greg Abbott's idea of values, it's repulsive.”
The brewing controversy made the jump to national media with a report on Nugent's “subhuman mongrel” comment on CNN's This Hour. CNN and MSNBC eventually devoted several dozen segments to the topic, which received only minimal play on Fox News.
Following the segment on This Hour, CNN host Wolf Blitzer conducted a lengthy analysis of Nugent's racist remark on Wolf, where he noted that the phrase “subhuman mongrel” is similar to the German word “untermensch,” which is “what the Nazis called Jews ... to justify the genocide of the Jewish community.” Fact-checking website PolitiFact later rated Blitzer's historical claim as “true.”
Even though most of his inflammatory commentary is documented by video evidence, Nugent told reporters in Texas “all the negative stuff is dishonest, all the really wonderful stuff is accurate.” The Star-Telegram also reported that Nugent described videos of his comments as “lies” and “inaccurate.”
As the firestorm continued to grow, Nugent lashed out at Blitzer and CNN on Twitter, comparing the news channel to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels and writing, "@WolfBlitzer is a journalist & Im a gay pirate from Cuba." He also used Twitter to hype a planned appearance on that night's Erin Burnett OutFront on CNN, but canceled the interview two hours before airtime, citing illness.
On CNN's The Situation Room, Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater revealed that sources close to Abbott “did not expect this to happen. They knew that Nugent was a controversial figure, who had said outspoken things in the past. They did not know how loud this was going to become.” Slater added that Abbott would no longer campaign with Nugent but that Abbott would not publicly condemn Nugent, likely for fear of angering “right-wing pro-gun advocates.”
Nugent's inflammatory rhetoric started to draw condemnation from prominent Republican politicians. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tweeted, “Ted Nugent's derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain said on CNN, “It's a free country but that kind of language really doesn't have any place in our political dialogue. It harms the Republican Party. I'm sure that it harmed that candidate there. And it should be obviously repudiated ... That kind of thing is beyond the pale, and I hope that our candidate down there learned a lesson.”
Also on CNN, Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested that Nugent apologize for his remark and added that Nugent “shouldn't have said that about the President of the United States ... I got a problem calling the president a mongrel.”
During an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz repeatedly dodged questions about the Nugent-Abbott controversy, but conceded, “Look, those sentiments there, of course I don't agree with them. You've never heard me say such a thing, nor would I.”
Appearing on The Ben Ferguson Show, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though “not necessarily to the president” for his “subhuman mongrel” comment, but then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Outdoor Channel and the NRA both continued to decline to comment on the story.
Abbott declared it time to “move on” from the controversy in a statement where he added, “I believe Ted Nugent recognized his language was wrong and he rightly apologized.”
Nugent made an appearance on comedian Dennis Miller's radio show where he suggested that the Obama administration is causing a “power struggle between the different races,” in a similar manner to the events that preceded the Holocaust. This latest comment kicked off another round of negative cable news coverage for Nugent.
That night, Nugent participated in a contentious interview with CNN's Erin Burnett during which he was confronted with his “subhuman mongrel” comment and offensive remarks he has made about women. Just moments after promising to “stop calling people names,” Nugent called Obama a “liar” and suggested that the president is a criminal.
Gun violence prevention organization Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) launched a petition calling for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the state's tourism agency, to cut ties with Nugent and Outdoor Channel. On February 12, Outdoor Channel and Nugent announced a partnership to produce a “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign with MEDC. On its campaign website, CSGV noted, “Michigan is a state with a proud civil rights history. Detroit was the site of the 1963 Freedom Walk led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The state was also the birthplace of Motown Records and home to civil rights icons like Sojourner Truth and Laura Smith Haviland. Today, 14% of Michigan's current population is African-American. It is difficult to see how the state's recent embrace of the Outdoor Channel and its extremist spokesman is 'Pure Michigan' in any sense.”
On conservative radio host Dana Loesch's show, Nugent claimed that he is helping Abbott and called Wendy Davis a “puppet” of “scam artist” Obama. He added that the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful has an “anti-American agenda.”
CNN reported that Abbott has confirmed that he has “no plans” to hold future campaign events with Nugent.