Conservatives can’t decide whether to disown or defend Cliven Bundy

After touting and lionizing the Nevada rancher for weeks, the GOP isn't sure how to respond to his patent racism

Topics: cliven bundy, Kurt Schlichter, Fox News, Sean Hannity, Dana Loesch, Dean Heller, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, kevin williamson, , ,

Conservatives can't decide whether to disown or defend Cliven BundyCliven Bundy (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Now that Cliven Bundy has revealed himself as a man who believes African-Americans are shiftless, abortion-happy moochers who’d probably be better off as slaves, anyway, conservatives and Republicans who spent much of the past few weeks celebrating the renegade rancher find themselves in a bit of a pickle.

Unlike the very similar comments made late in 2013 by Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” (rather than slavery, Robertson said Jim Crow was better for black people), Bundy’s remarks left no room for even the tiniest sliver of doubt as to whether he held extremely retrograde views on race. With Robertson, the right was somewhat able to argue that Robertson was simply recalling his childhood rather than making any political statements. With Bundy, not so much.

To their credit, some Republicans have disowned Bundy harshly and unequivocally. ”His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” said former Bundy booster Sen. Rand Paul. Another former Bundy fan, Sen. Dean Heller, had his spokesman say that the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Yet not every GOPer has been as eager to throw Bundy off the bandwagon. Rick Perry, who like Paul is considered a possible 2016 candidate, refused to distance himself from the racist rancher. “I don’t know what he said, but the fact is Clyde [sic] Bundy is a side issue here compared to what we’re looking at in the state of Texas,” Perry told CBS. “He is an individual,” continued the former leaser of what used to be known as “Niggerhead” camp.* “Deal with his issues as you may.”



Although his lack of interest in acknowledging Bundy’s racism was notable when compared to other GOP politicians, Perry’s dismissiveness was echoed by many in the conservative movement who need not worry about winning elections, especially among influential Twitter users and the media. (Greta Van Susteren being a notable ALL CAPS exception.)

Radio host and Blaze contributor Dana Loesch, for example, responded to Bundy’s comments with a shrug of her shoulders, writing, “I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly.” Loesch did grant that, “at face value,” Bundy’s comments on race were “odd and sound[ed] offensive” but she also claimed that Bundy was, essentially, correct. “He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family,” Loesch wrote, “which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity [.]“ Loesch then went on to argue that Bundy was a distraction and that the larger issue of government overreach was in no way made less legitimate just because its mascot turned out to be an unreconstructed bigot.

In a similar vein, National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who once wrote a piece praising Bundy and comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi, told Talking Points Memo that Bundy’s racism didn’t have much of an impact on his argument. “Mr. Bundy’s racial rhetoric is lamentable and backward,” Williamson wrote in an email before adding that Bundy was “separate from the fundamental question here, which is the federal government’s acting as an absentee landlord for nine-tenths of the state of Nevada.” Williamson then compared Bundy to the men who died at the Alamo, writing, “I very strongly suspect that most of the men who died at the Alamo held a great many views that I would find repugnant; we remember them for other reasons.” (For what it’s worth: The struggle over the Alamo was in part about whether people living in the area could enslave others, so maybe the comparison is more apt than Williamson realizes.)

On Fox News, meanwhile, the treatment of Bundy has been conspicuous mainly for its absence. More than any other element of the conservative movement, it was Fox that turned Bundy into a star, with Sean Hannity leading the way. Yet as of this writing, mention of Bundy is nowhere to be found on Fox News’ website and mentions of Bundy on the channel itself have been few and far between. Nothing to see here, folks — move along.

And as for conservatives on Twitter? While a few followed the lead of Rand Paul and Dean Heller by decrying Bundy’s comments forcefully, many of the conservative rank-and-file were loath to abandon their one-time hero, opting instead to ignore the issue by claiming Democrats are the real racists and bringing up Obama’s former pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright. The best representation of the overall reaction, however, can be seen with these two tweets from Kurt Schlichter, a columnist for the right-wing Townhall:

*Originally, post incorrectly claimed Perry owned the ranch by that name. Perry’s father, and at times Perry himself, leased the land from the Hendrick Home for Children Trust. We regret the error.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at eisquith@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...