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Rep. Rich Nugent shows signs of being flexible

This being gift-giving season, it's a good time to look back at the very generous present Ginny Brown-Waite gave U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent as she left Congress two years ago.

It wasn't just an inside track to the Republican nomination. Barring a major scandal — unlikely, given Nugent's history — it should be a guaranteed job for as long as he wants it.

The new, somewhat revised version of the district Brown-Waite left him goes from an ever-so-slightly bruised red in Hernando County, where losing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took 54 percent of the vote, to a flaming sports-car crimson in other counties — especially Sumter, home of the Villages retirement mecca, where Romney won 67.2 percent of the vote.

So, obviously, Nugent couldn't go wrong by going right.

On foreign policy, he's been Dick Cheney. He shares his last name and his position on gun legislation with Ted Nugent. When asked to choose between the interests of the environment and corporations, he picked big business every time.

He signed Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge and the Contract from America that calls for an end to the Internal Revenue Service. And so as not to alienate any supporters of any far-out revenue proposal, he also backed the thoroughly unfair fair tax.

For two years, this was fine because the entire GOP had scrambled so far to the right that some of the harshest criticism Nugent received from constituents was for sticking with the hard-line leadership in the 2011 debt ceiling fight. At a town meeting, a voter stood up and accused him of being too flexible.

But now?

Well, Republican superstar Sen. Marco Rubio recently gave a speech so sympathetic to janitors and landscapers it seemed like he just might borrow party maverick Mike Fasano's line about the "little guy and gal."

The unofficial tea party boss in the U.S. Senate, Jim DeMint, R-S.C., plans to exile himself to a right-wing think tank.

And Nugent's boss, House Speaker John Boehner, is giving at least a few signs that in this round of debt talks he really might be flexible.

So is Nugent in a tight spot? Can he see the walls closing in, his hard-right constituents on one side and a seemingly more moderate Republican leadership on other?

Of course not.

This is a guy who was just re-elected with nearly 65 percent of the vote, who was so intimidating to legitimate Democrats that his opponent was best known for sitting on a flag pole.

If Nugent needs to make some slight adjustments — if he has to come up with a more nuanced approach than shoveling red meat to the old lions in the Villages — I'm betting he will.

Maybe he already has. When the Times' Tony Marrero asked for Nugent's views on the "fiscal cliff," it took him a full week to respond, and then he boldly stated he wouldn't want to say anything to undermine party leaders. In a statement on Friday, he emphasized how darn reasonable they were being compared to the president.

And remember, Nugent was a moderate, community-minded sheriff before he transformed into a tea party-friendly U.S. representative.

When he wants to hold on to a job, he can be very flexible.

Rep. Rich Nugent shows signs of being flexible 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:26pm]
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