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By Sheer Coincidence, Conservative Martyrs Keep Turning Out to Be Huge Racists

George Frey/Getty Images

Earlier this month, I argued that racial resentment partially explains the political durability of the GOP's position on Medicaid expansion and voting rights, and that the debate over issues like these is hobbled by the right's unwillingness to accept the possibility that race ever helps produce an intensity gap in any policy dispute.

I received a ton of pushback from conservative readers, most of whom hold these positions based on ideological priors other than white supremacy. Unsurprisingly they were reluctant to admit that, to the extent that their views are winning the day in states across the south, it's thanks to the support of a non-negligible number of racist, or racially resentful white voters.

These policy debates have conveniently coincided with a variety of culture war flareups that place these same conservatives on the side of right-wing martyrs who then just happen to reveal themselves to be enormous racists.

There was Rand Paul's aide who had moonlighted as a pro-segregation radio personality called The Southern Avenger. Then there was Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, who placed homosexuality in the same orbit of sin as terrorism, and argued that civil rights equality had turned black people from happy subservients to bitter welfare recipients.

And now there's the lawless, mooching Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who takes things further than Robertson and argues that slavery, not segregation, was truly the golden age for "the negroes." Better to be enslaved than subsidized—unless your subsidy comes in the form of the public land upon which your cattle graze for free.

The right's special pleading for Robertson outstripped its special pleading for Bundy. Some conservatives have been willing to admit that Bundy's just an opportunist, not a tribune for individual liberty. But he nevertheless became a folk hero to high-profile conservatives like Sean Hannity and even some national GOP figures.

Today, most of them are either in full retreat from him, or pretending he never existed. Conservative radio host Dana Loesch is one exception. She isn't willing to throw him under the bus just yet, arguing that Bundy's problem may be a lack of polish rather than a rotten core.

"I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly."

Bundy's either a hideous aberration, or another misunderstood soul. But he can't be representative of a subculture, because that would entail acknowledging that safety-net opposition and voting-rights opposition and other conservative policies draw political sustenance from sources other than heady libertarianism.

Same goes for Robertson. And the Southern Avenger. And Chris McDaniel's surprisingly robust Senate candidacy in Mississippi. It's all just a weird coincidence.