GOP Presidential Candidates Struggle With Oregon

Republicans and Bundys sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s—not anymore!

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

On Saturday, January 2, a group of armed anti-government protesters seized a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, aggrieved by the federal government’s treatment of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. The father-and-son duo were convicted of arson in 2012 after admitting that two fires they lit in 2001 and 2006 spread to land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Both were given a five-year sentence—the minimum for committing arson on federal land—and reported to a California prison on Monday to carry out their sentence.

Although the Hammonds have sought to distance themselves from their wannabe allies hunkered down in Malheur, the militia qua protesters have managed to snag significant airtime thanks to the ubiquitous presence of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of “renowned” nutjob rancher Cliven Bundy. Ammon and Ryan aren’t exactly following in their father’s footsteps, but they have gathered an army of nescient nincompoops in their stand against the federal government.

For the most part, the Republican presidential candidates have brushed the issue off. Many had praised Cliven Bundy in 2014 for his crusade against the feds but have since reneged their support for the family’s activities in general. Here’s what the crowded Republican playing field thinks so far.

Rand Paul:

As Paul told The Washington Post: “I’m sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics. . . . That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.”

Paul met with Cliven Bundy in Nevada during the summer of 2015. Politico reported that the two had a lengthy discussion of federal land ownership and states’ rights. After Bundy questioned whether black Americans were “better off as slaves,” Paul quickly reversed his praise for the rogue rancher, saying his “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Ben Carson:

During an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN: “I would think that we should try to look at things from both perspectives. Why, in fact, do these ranchers feel that way? Let’s hear their grievances. I don’t condone them taking over, you know, a federal building. You know, we have better ways of expressing our displeasure than that. But the fact of the matter is, there are legitimate grievances. You know, there’s absolutely no reason that the federal government should lay claim to so much land. I believe it would be a very wise thing to begin to gradually get that land back in the hands of the states, and then let the states deal with it in an appropriate way.”

Carson praised the Bundys in 2014—referring to them as “upstanding people”—and called their armed resistance against the dreaded Bureau of Land Management “encouraging.” He was, however, less encouraged by Bundy’s comments on slavery.

Ted Cruz:

To reporters in Iowa: “Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

Cruz repeatedly emphasized his “prayers” were with law enforcement officers handling the situation.

Marco Rubio:

In an interview with KBUR, a radio station in Burlington, Iowa: “Let me just say, first of all, you’ve got to follow the law. You can’t be lawless. We live in a republic,” he continued. “There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. If we get frustrated with it, that’s why we have elections. That’s why we have people we can hold accountable.”

Rubio was one of the first candidates to condemn Bundy’s shenanigans. Still, he left room for some of Bundy’s less aggressive supporters by noting that the federal government does, as a matter of fact, own too much land in the West. Rubio has advocated for privatizing federal lands and energy resources in the past, pledging to turn over control of these properties to the states.

Jeb Bush:

Nothing yet, although Bush has been critical of the Bundys in the past and presumably has no impetus to change his tone. But given that the occupiers at Malheur are heavily armed, scheduling tweets on Obama’s “attack” on the second amendment seems ill advised at best.

Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie:

Mostly too busy in New Hampshire to comment. Christie did express some sympathy for the state officials with some “very difficult choices to make.”

Jim Gilmore:

Who?

Mike Huckabee:

*crickets*

John Kasich:

“I haven’t heard about it. . . . When did this come out?”

As Kasich’s interview with an NBC reporter shows, we should all be grateful that he’s running for president and isn’t The New York Times’s national editor. One of his aides did clarify, though, that the ideal “federal compound for Bundy and his gang” was a “U.S. penitentiary.”

Rick Santorum:

Unclear, but at least we learned on Monday that he’s no fan of Green Eggs and Ham.

Donald Trump:

While Trump praised Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in 2014, his views on the Bundys’ current activities are unclear. Anyway, the Donald has a lot on his plate this week: his disastrous television advertisement was unveiled today, followed by a phony handwritten lawsuit ostensibly filed against Obama by Cliven—both of which helped mask his radio silence on Oregon. Maybe the Malheur occupiers don’t have the spunk he’s looking for in an ideological apprentice.

 

Hannah Gais is the associate digital editor at the Washington Spectator.