Repub­li­can can­di­dates flirt with law­break­ers

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Dana Mil­bank Fol­low Dana Mil­bank on Twit­ter: @Mil­bank.

Am­mon Bundy and the other armed mil­i­tants oc­cu­py­ing a fed­eral fa­cil­ity at a wildlife refuge in Ore­gon have a beef with the ad­min­is­tra­tion — the Teddy Roo­sevelt ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It has been pro­vided for us to be able to come to­gether and unite in making a hard stand against this over­reach, this tak­ing of the peo­ple’s land and re­sources,” pro­claimed Bundy. “If we do not make a hard stand, then we will be in a po­si­tion where we won’t be able to as a peo­ple.”

But this “tak­ing of the peo­ple’s land,” the “over­reach” that moved th­ese rebels to take up arms, occurred 108 years ago, when Roo­sevelt — a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and a great con­ser­va­tion­ist — es­tab­lished the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, one of 51 such refuges he set aside, “as a pre­serve and breed­ing ground for na­tive birds.”

So why have the mil­i­tants cho­sen this mo­ment to “un­wind all th­ese un­con­sti­tu­tional land trans­ac­tions,” as Bundy put it? Per­haps it’s be­cause they think the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere now con­dones such anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­ity.

You can see why they might think so. Sev­eral of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have been en­cour­ag­ing law­break­ing, wink­ing at it or sim­ply look­ing the other way.

A few months ago, Ted Cruz, Mike Huck­abee and oth­ers rushed to de­fend Kim Davis, the Ken­tucky county clerk jailed for re­fus­ing to obey fed­eral law. A fed­eral judge had held her in con­tempt of court for re­fus­ing to rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riages, and the Supreme Court specif­i­cally de­clined to give Davis re­lief. But Cruz iden­ti­fied her jail­ing as “ju­di­cial tyranny” and said Davis was op­er­at­ing “un­der God’s author­ity.”

Don­ald Trump has put at the cen­ter of his cam­paign an ex­tra­con­sti­tu­tional ban on ad­mit­ting Mus­lims into the coun­try. Marco Ru­bio said that if the law con­flicts with the Gospel, “God’s rules al­ways win,” and that “we are called to ig­nore” the gov­ern­ment’s author­ity. Huck­abee and Rick San­to­rum signed a pledge not to “re­spect an un­just law that di­rectly con­flicts with higher law.”

And, of course, there was the 2014 stand­off in which Cliven Bundy, who re­fused to pay graz­ing fees for his use of fed­eral land, got sup­port or sym­pa­thy from Cruz, Trump, Huck­abee, Rand Paul and Ben Car­son. Cruz de­nounced the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for “us­ing the jack­boot of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.”

The rancher lost much of his sup­port when he de­liv­ered a racist rant. But not all of it: Paul ear­lier this year had a pri­vate meet­ing with the el­der Bundy that the rancher said lasted 45 min­utes. As my col­leagues Katie Zez­ima and David Weigel noted, Paul and Cruz have both cam­paigned to trans­fer fed­eral lands in the West to pri­vate own­er­ship.

When Am­mon Bundy and oth­ers took over the (un­oc­cu­pied) com­pound at the wildlife pre­serve over the week­end, the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates re­acted mostly with si­lence. A scan of tweets from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers also found nary a peep about the armed takeover of the fed­eral fa­cil­ity. An ad­mirable ex­cep­tion (and one whose low stand­ing proves the rule) was John Ka­sich, whose strate­gist John Weaver sug­gested “a good fed­eral com­pound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. pen­i­ten­tiary.”

Fi­nally, in a ra­dio in­ter­view Mon­day, Marco Ru­bio said the mil­i­tants “can­not be lawless” — though he added that he agrees with their com­plaints about fed­eral lands. And Cruz, re­spond­ing to a ques­tion, said he hoped Bundy’s gang would “stand down peace­ably” be­cause “we don’t have a con­sti­tu­tional right to use force and violence.”

That was mild crit­i­cism — Bundy had said he has no in­ten­tion of us­ing violence — but bet­ter than the usual wink.

As it hap­pens, Cruz also re­leased a TV ad Mon­day protest­ing in­ad­e­quate en­force­ment of the border. “The rule of law,” he says in the ad, “wasn’t meant to be bro­ken.” That’s a fine sen­ti­ment. But to live un­der the rule of law we must fol­low all laws — not just those we like.

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