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Relax, Democrats, Ted Nugent's just a rock 'n' roller

April 17, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • Rocker and gun advocate Ted Nugent performs at the National Rifle Assn. convention in Milwaukee in 2006.
Rocker and gun advocate Ted Nugent performs at the National Rifle Assn.… (Morry Gash / Associated…)

Mitt Romney was probably surprised to learn Tuesday that his native state's most famous rock guitarist, Ted Nugent, had officially joined his campaign as a spokesman.

Oh wait -- he didn't. But you wouldn't know that from the news release put out Tuesday by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who railed, "Mitt Romney surrogate Ted Nugent made offensive comments about President Obama and November’s elections this weekend that are despicable, deplorable and completely beyond the pale."

I won't defend Nugent's comments at the National Rifle Assn. convention in St. Louis; they were hyperbolic and irresponsible. He skates right up to the edge of calling for violence against the president, so it wouldn't surprise me if the Secret Service decided to pay him a bit more attention.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

But Nugent is no more a surrogate for Romney than the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is for Obama. Just because someone with a microphone urges people to vote for a candidate doesn't make him or her a "surrogate" for the campaign.

There's a lot not to like about the way political campaigns are run, but one of my least favorite things is the way campaigns hustle to declare themselves the victims of some monstrous affront, then demand an apology from the other side. And you would think the DNC would know better than to go down this road with Romney.

Republicans spent much of the 2008 campaign trying to tie then-candidate Barack Obama to a host of fringe figures from his past, associating him with seemingly every ridiculous thing ever uttered by the likes of Wright and student-radical-turned-university-professor Bill Ayers. The outrage the DNC sought to gin up over Nuge's blathering only validates that kind of guilt-by-association campaigning.

As far as I can tell, the only connection between Romney and Nugent, beyond the fact that both were born in the Detroit metropolitan area, is that Romney appears to have spoken with Nugent by phone last month and secured his endorsement. Why in heaven's name Romney spent any of his precious campaign time picking up Nuge's blessing is a mystery -- especially since it seems to have come after the Michigan primary, when it might have helped.

But just because someone given to spewing cartoonish hatred endorses a candidate, that doesn't make him a "surrogate" or a representative of any kind. Romney's campaign issued a statement calling for civility on both sides without mentioning Nugent, and that struck me as appropriate. To go further would have been to take implicit responsibility for every outrageous statement made by those with no more than a tenuous connection to the candidate.

Democrats seem to want Romney's side to distance itself from Nugent the way Obama's campaign did with Hilary Rosen after she questioned Ann Romney's fitness to advise her husband on women's economic issues. But Rosen is a Democrat who does politics for a living. Nugent isn't.

I expect no small amount of demagoguery this year from the national parties, which will look for every opportunity possible to attack the other side. But before Schultz makes a habit of trying to attach a bunch of Nugent-like tar babies to Romney, she should ask herself whether she really wants to legitimize that kind of attack.

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