The Republicans who withheld their support for Cliven Bundy were rewarded on Thursday morning when The New York Times‘ Adam Nagourney reported the Nevada rancher is a grade-A, pro-slavery racist. The ones who took the Bundy bait are changing their stories.
As Nagourney describes it, Bundy is enjoying his newfound fame by sharing his views on a number of policy issues, including race, welfare and whether the “Negro” hasn’t been hurt by emancipation. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton,” Bundy said. “And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Last week, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center argued that the Bundy militia’s philosophy descends from “racist, anti-Semitic violent groups.”
Several Republicans have avoided talking about Bundy, as have major political groups. As Politico noted last week, even the Tea Party Patriots didn’t comment on the situation. But a few conservatives couldn’t resist the opportunity of throwing their lot in with a budding anti-government movement to further their own political careers. Here’s what they said when Bundy was just a renegade cowboy, and what they’re saying now.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller
What he said then: Last week, during a debate with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Heller said that he thought the Bundy ranchers were patriots. “What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” Heller said. He added that he wanted hearings to figure out “who’s accountable for this.”
What he’s saying now: Chandler Smith, a spokesman for Heller, said the congressman “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
What he said then: Abbott didn’t come out in defense of Bundy so much as his ideas — he used the media attention surrounding the Bundy stand off to highlight federal land claims in his home state. “I am deeply concerned about the notion that the Bureau of Land Management believes the federal government has the authority to swoop in and take land that has been owned and cultivated by Texas landowners for generations,” Abbott wrote in a letter to the BLM this week. The letter echoed Bundy’s language, as he argued his family has also owned the land for generations.
What he’s saying now: Laura Bean, Abbott’s spokeswoman, told the Times that the letter “was regarding a dispute in Texas and is in no way related to the dispute in Nevada.”
Nevada State Assemblywoman Michele Fiore
What she said then: Nevada’s Democrats were quick to call out all the local Republicans who supported Bundy, including Cresent Hardy, Niger Innis, Adam Laxalt and Michele Fiore.
Fiore spoke with both Sean Hannity on Fox News and Chris Hayes on MSNBC to argue the Bundy cause. Hayes spoke with Fiore over video, as she was attending the Bundy ranch barbecue. She stopped short of saying that she agreed with Bundy in not recognizing the authority of the federal government, but questioned the heavy handedness of the BLM. “I’m not saying I agree with Cliven Bundy, what I’m saying is, the way this was handled was really suspicious.” Fiore doesn’t believe Bundy owes the government $1 million in unpaid grazing fees — it’s probably closer to a couple hundred thousand.
Fiore has also argued that the cows retrieved from the BLM were poorly treated:
What she’s saying now: Fiore hasn’t commented publicly on Bundy’s statements yet. The Wire reached out to her for a comment, and we’ll update if she responds.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul
What he said then: Like Abbott, Paul focused more on the policy issue. “There is a legitimate constitutional question here about whether the state should be in charge of endangered species or whether the federal government should be,” Paul told Fox News earlier this week. “But I don’t think name calling is going to calm this down,” he added, referring to Reid’s “domestic terrorists” remark.
What he’s saying now: Nothing. Paul’s team said he was unavailable for comment.(Update 9:55 am: “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” Paul said in a statement.)