As U.S. Rep. Steve King roasted over the flames of public condemnation this past week for the latest un-hooding of his white nationalist obsessions, among the most stinging rebukes was the suggestion he’s accomplished nothing.
Nine times elected, and yet no bills, initiatives or legislative monuments of note bear his name. It’s true, and was true long before the Republican from Kiron wondered aloud to the New York Times how white supremacy and white nationalism came to gain such a bad rap.
King is a racist. No reasonable jury would acquit. But as to the charge of accomplishing nothing, King is not guilty. Exhibit A: the transformation of the Republican Party he helped engineer.
As the Times noted, King is the original “build that wall” Republican. As immigration fearmongering is shoving our country down a political dead-end road and shutting part of the federal government, King’s long list of greatest fearmongering hits provides the soundtrack.
King saw visions of invaders long before President Donald Trump did. He derided drug-trafficking, cantaloupe-calved Dreamers long before Trump descended the escalator to a very low road. King’s wall is now mainstream GOP policy, though the congressman never thought of making Mexico pay for it. I bet he regrets that.
A party that once tried seriously to comprehensively reform our immigration system now pelts any such ideas with derisive shouts of “amnesty!” That’s King.
When Iowa GOP candidates up and down the ballot last fall used frightening TV ads to convince voters that Democrats favor an open border invasion by tattooed brown people, that’s classic King.
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Republicans now are lining up to repudiate King. But on the issue of immigration, among the most important facing the nation, this is King’s party.
I first met King as a young legislative reporter for the Sioux City Journal in 1998. He was a state senator and one of my local legislators. He won his seat after defeating a more moderate Republican in a primary.
In February 1998, he filed a bill seeking to remove references to “multicultural,” “non-sexist” and “globalism” from portions of education provisions in the Iowa Code. He wanted them replaced with language emphasizing “the democratic republic of the United States … is the unchallenged greatest nation in the world and has derived its strength from the forces that shaped it: the philosophies of Christianity, free enterprise capitalism and western civilization.”
His bill never became law. His crusades were seen as oddities, in the beginning. Nevertheless, he persisted.
Diversity always has been King’s public enemy No. 1. It’s why he fought tooth-and-nail to stop any and all attempts to extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ Iowans. It’s why he pushed so hard to make English Iowa’s “official language.” He’s spent much of his career in public office trying to pull the state and the nation backward in time.
“This bill is about hatred and bigotry. It is a xenophobic legislation and I am disappointed that the Republican Party of Iowa is betraying its own heritage,” then-Sen. Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said of King’s English bill in 2001.
Some Iowa Republicans also resisted King’s crusades, but most went along for the ride, rightward. And when King veered rhetorically off the rails, he mostly drew GOP shrugs.
During a cable news panel at the 2016 GOP national convention, King touted the achievements of western civilization compared with other “subgroups.” The message was clear, especially to members of these so-called subgroups.
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“I think they were inappropriate,” said then-Gov. Terry Branstad when asked about King’s remarks by journalists, including myself. We asked the governor to explain further.
“Well, people know Steve King,” Branstad said.
At times, Iowa Republicans tolerated King like a bothersome weed on the fringe of the garden. But at election time, including last November, they’d rush to praise him as a “true conservative,” stand shoulder-to-shoulder at rallies and gladly woo his Western Iowa voters. When he was challenged in a primary, they rallied to his defense. He owned the libs, and delivered the votes.
Now, King’s brand of noxious politics has taken over the whole plot. His is a resistant hybrid of fear and nationalism now deeply rooted in the GOP’s Trumpian brand.
King’s weak re-election showing last fall, his recent eruption and congressional condemnation are prompting some Iowa Republicans to grab the Roundup. Newspapers, including the Sioux City Journal, are calling for his resignation. Primary challengers are popping up.
And yet, even now, U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and Gov. Kim Reynolds, have vowed to remain neutral in a potential primary fight. If so, they’ll be the only people in Iowa staying neutral about King.
Sure, they’ll criticize King’s statements, and yet top Iowa Republicans can’t bring themselves to condemn the president over his hateful excesses and the worsening consequences. The GOP establishment is tied up in knots of blatant hypocrisy. That’s classic King.
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