After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
He later added, "I spend 99 percent of my time interviewing soldiers, sailors, airmen, guard and the marines and I don't pay a lot of attention to what other people say."
Asked again, he grew stern, stating, "I think what you are trying to do, you are trying to draw me into a confrontation with a friend of mine. We seat alphabetically at the board meetings so where do you suppose he sits?"
John Lott, a pro-gun author and NRA supporter who appears regularly on NRA News, said "they were dumb comments," adding "Ted speaks sometimes without thinking about what he says."
But Lott said Nugent's apology weeks later was enough: "If he hadn't apologized then I would say it would be a clear cut answer that he be removed. He says he didn't mean it as a racist thing, surely that's the way that people took it. If you know Ted a little bit you know that he sometimes says things without thinking."
Ken Blanchard, an NRA supporter and pro-gun author who spoke just after being interviewed by NRA News (where he is a frequent guest) also saw no downside to Nugent's views: "It probably doesn't hurt because the people who are inflamed by him wouldn't join the NRA anyway."
Other NRA representatives at CPAC included NRA News on-air host Cam Edwards, who declined to comment on Nugent. Representatives at the NRA booth in CPAC's expo area and at the annual NRA University sessions held Saturday to recruit new members also declined to offer views on Nugent.