Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa is in for the political fight of his life after Democrats and members of his own party began denouncing the nine-term Congressman for his latest racist remarks. On Monday, party leaders stripped him of his prestigious committee assignments, significantly reducing his power in the chamber. On Tuesday, the House near-unanimously voted for a resolution targeting his statements supporting white nationalism and supremacy. Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Tim Ryan of Ohio don’t think that goes far enough. They want to censure King, which is just a step below expulsion.
King’s troubles began Thursday when the New York Times published a controversial interview with King. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” he at one point asked the reporter. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Kings comments have drawn an unusually fierce reaction from Republican leaders. “There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I have no tolerance for such positions and those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position.” McConnell also suggested King resign if he “doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive.”
Similar statements came in from Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. President Trump, who once came to the defense of white supremacists and neo-nazis in the wake of the far-right killing in Charlottesville, is letting his political ally twist in the wind, offering no words of support.
The Republican reaction belies the fact that this is far from the first time Steve King has said something outrageous. In 2017, he tweeted his support for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a far-right, anti-Muslim candidate who once compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and has campaigned to ban the book in the Netherlands. King wrote, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Referring to DACA recipients, he famously said in 2013, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
In 2018 alone, King supported a white nationalist running for Toronto mayor, repeatedly retweeted white supremacist accounts on Twitter, and echoed Hungarian dictator Victor Orban’s comment that “mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”
As much as GOP leaders may protest King’s comments, Republican voters certainly don’t. In the ultra-conservative Western Iowa fourth congressional district, voters have returned King to Washington again and again despite his controversies. A glance at the top comments on Fox News’ Facebook page on a link to a story about Steve King’s political troubles reveals the Republican rank-and-file doesn’t care about his racism. Commenter Freddie Fleet wrote “Boy, they just opened Pandora’s box! Thanks, Rep. King, for taking one for the citizens” which netted 261 positive reactions and two negative reactions. Nearly 1,500 people approved of Salli Reindel-Nosbisch’s comment “But the black caucus who admittedly refuses to allow whites in, is still ok?? How is that?” Not a single top comment condemned King’s remarks.
The alt-right, which has become increasingly influential in Republican circles, has come to King’s defense. Former KKK leader David Duke wrote on his website, “Kings don’t resign, they abdicate, and King Steve isn’t about to do that” before urging his fellow white supremacists to call members of Congress in support of Steve King. Gateway Pundit, a right-wing conspiracy site, published the blaring headline, “NEVER DOUBT That This is the Same Way They Think About You–> GOP Leaders Side With Lying New York Times Over Rep. Steve King.”
In study after study, Republicans consistently hold more racist views than Democrats. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five Republicans is against interracial dating, compared to just one in 20 Democrats. Another survey found they believe increasing racial diversity in the United States will be “mostly negative.”
Of course, we can’t forget the racist-in-chief. Republicans picked Donald Trump out of a crowded primary field of 17 challengers. He started his campaign accusing Mexicans of flooding the country with rape, drugs, and crime. He attacked Muslims and promised to bar them from entering the United States. He fueled the racist conspiracy that President Obama was not an American citizen. Republicans fell in love with him because of his bigotry, not in spite of it.
Rep. King’s Republican colleagues said nary a word about his hate-filled rhetoric before, so why are Republicans attacking him now? It has nothing to do with having a conscience and everything to do with political expediency. In his 2018 election, his controversial comments caused corporate donations to dry up, and he only took 50.6 percent of the vote, compared to the 61 percent he pulled just two years earlier. This is a district the Republicans don’t want to be forced to spend money on in 2020. Already a primary challenger, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra, is lining up to challenge King in 2020. If Republicans can push King out in or before the primary, the corporate cash will likely return and they won’t have to worry about protecting this ruby-red district.
The famous political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once write “politics have no relation to morals.” After watching Republicans suddenly pretend to stand up against bigotry after years of conveniently ignoring it, I realize just how profoundly true that statement is.