This one isn’t hard.

The rock musician Ted Nugent, who has a history of saying some pretty awful things, outdid himself this week when he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” 

(Mr. Nugent’s “apology” in the wake of the growing controversy was not really that, saying, “I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself”–mentioning Governor Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican front-runner in the race for governor.)

Mr. Nugent said he used “street-fighter terminology.” Actually, he used the language of Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South.

What Nugent said is ugly and wicked and racist. And if asked about it anyone, including any Republican politician, should say so. They should say so instantaneously and unhesitatingly and unambiguously, without complaining about media double standards. They can certainly do better than Senator Ted Cruz, who distanced himself from the sentiments of Nugent while praising him for “fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.” And when asked if he would campaign with Nugent, Cruz answered, “I haven’t yet, and I’m going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.” Really? Why avoid engaging in this hypothetical? Why not say something like, oh, how about this: “Are you out of your mind? Absolutely not! Under no circumstances“? 

Of course what Mr. Cruz did was not as depressing as what the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin did, which was to endorse Mr. Abbott on her Facebook page on Wednesday with this Palinian moral logic, stating, “If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me.” (And while you’re reading Ms. Palin’s Facebook page, don’t forget to check out her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas in which she “calls for bringing back the freedom to express the Christian values of the season.”) 

And certainly Greg Abbott, who has campaigned with Nugent, should repudiate the rock guitarist in the strongest possible way. (The New York Times reports Mr. Abbott said in a statement that Nugent “rightly apologized,” but he offered no apology himself for campaigning with Nugent. “This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way,” Abbott said. “It’s time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans.”)

Some Republicans, like Rand Paul, have done the right thing, saying,“Ted Nugent’s derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.” All praise for Senator Paul.

But the fact that Republicans seem to be struggling with how to handle a repulsive figure like Mr. Nugent frankly does not speak well of them. What they don’t understand is that these kinds of moments have resonance with voters. They are symbolic; but symbolism matters, and in this case it speaks to something real and deep. Will a party and a movement police its own ranks when it comes to haters?

It isn’t enough to plead ignorance or blame the media for elevating the story. It’s out there now–and because Nugent is involved in GOP politics, campaigning with a would-be governor, it’s understandable why it’s a story.

There are several possible explanations for why Republicans would not denounce Nugent and his statement in unqualified terms. One is that they aren’t all that offended by what Nugent said. A second is Nugent is on their “team” and therefore needs to be treated with kid gloves. A third explanation is that they fear that in denouncing Nugent they will upset elements of the GOP base.

Any of these explanations is an indictment.

I hope more Republicans are asked about what Nugent said; and I hope they criticize him in the most powerful moral language they can summon. It would be the right thing to do; and it would actually be the politically smart thing to do.

The Republican Party, remember, is the party of Abraham Lincoln, not the party of Ted Nugent. 

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