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Ted Cruz Won’t Be Burned Twice by the Bundys

Cruz was once eager to embrace their cause. Now he's just as eager to disavow them. What happened?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

It took a long time for Republican presidential candidates to formulate a response to the occupation by armed seditionists of a federal building in a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon.

Today, two leading candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, decided to condemn the takeover. Rubio called it “lawless” on Iowa radio. Cruz, more forcefully, told reporters “we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” calling on the protesters to “stand down peaceably.”

In a primary campaign that’s been defined by reactionary, anti-government politics, this came as a welcome blow for sanity. But it may have been motivated less by sober reason than by the recent lessons of a partisan battle.

The Oregon seditionists are led by two sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who famously engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014 over his occupation of federal land—and forced them to stand down.

Back then, several Republican politicians, including Cruz, rushed to align themselves with Bundy. Cruz in particular identified himself as a Bundy sympathist, decrying the Obama administration for placing “our liberty under assault,” and calling the standoff “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.”

Then Cliven Bundy revealed himself to be a pro-slavery racist.

Referring to “the Negro,” Bundy held court with supporters, bemoaning that “[t]hey abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. ... 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.”

Just as quickly as Cruz raced to hug Bundy, he raced to distance himself from him. Today’s condemnations suggest Cruz learned an important lesson about the kind of baggage seditionist-types carry.

In truth, though, Cliven Bundy’s abhorrent personal views about slavery have nothing to do with whether his land grab was right or wrong. The animating issue in Oregon is slightly different than in Nevada, but not categorically so. It’s either legitimate to occupy federal land with weapons, and threaten to use them against agents of the government to settle petty squabbles, or it is not.

That Cruz now says it’s not may suggest a change of heart. Or it may simply suggest you can only fool him once. These are Bundy’s sons, after all, and the apples don’t seem to have fallen far from the extremely racist tree.