Rep. Steve King (R-IA) returned to some well-worn shtick this week in an interview with Politico, in which he bemoans his outcast state within his own party’s caucus and decries his colleagues for keeping him from plum committee assignments for so small a thing as defending white nationalism in an interview with The New York Times this past January.
Stop if you’ve heard this one before. Per Politico:
“It was a political lynch mob. I had to let the blood cool,” King said in a rare interview Tuesday. “And the blood has now cooled, and now they don’t want to be faced with the reality of what they’ve done.”
King goes on to assert that his “patience” has grown “thinner and thinner” with his colleagues over their treatment. “I don’t want this to be the only thing I do in this Congress,” he told Politico, “but it is something I will not let go of.”
King’s problems all stem from another thing that he has historically refused to let go of: His flamboyant support of white supremacy, which is arguably the only thing that has distinguished his tenure in the House of Representatives, beginning with his ascension in 2003.
For all the infamy that King’s controversial views have brought him, this long-running act is nearly matched by another equally committed and constant performance: His Republican colleagues looking the other way. And while there’s little doubt that being deprived of committee assignments and the party’s full fundraising support — both of which are cited by Politico as King’s latter-day grievances — is a potent, if short-run, hit to King’s political prestige and electoral potential, these sanctions are very late on arrival.
What’s more, they were preceded by a long period in which King’s fellow Republicans accommodated him at every turn.
This notion, that Republicans have subjected King to a “lynch mob,” is wholly without merit. Recent history only throws this fact into stark relief. In June 2018, many months before King’s encounter with the Times, the Iowa congressman made news when he approvingly promoted the views of a well-known neo-Nazi named Mark Collett on Twitter.
Europe is waking up…Will America…in time? https://t.co/GqZ3E1lCyh
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) June 12, 2018
As HuffPost’s Christopher Matthias subsequently reported, given a month to provide an adequate response to this affront, feckless Republican electeds came up with bupkes:
What is surprising, and concerning, is that a sitting U.S. congressman can unapologetically promote a neo-Nazi’s propaganda on Twitter without real political consequence. Over the past month, none of King’s fellow Republicans have pushed to censure him or expel him from Congress. None have called for him to resign. Mostly, they have stayed quiet.
Indeed, at a time when Republicans were frequently forced into rebuking many who shared King’s opinions, King got off very lightly, retaining his committee seats and his standing among GOP donors.
It’s possible, of course, that Republicans found themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable position, given the fact that one man who shared King’s point of view was well beyond their wherewithal to repudiate: President Donald Trump, who around the time of the one-month anniversary of King’s endorsement of a neo-Nazi on Twitter, was echoing the same sentiments in an interview with the British tabloid The Sun. There, Trump averred that immigration was “changing the culture” of Europe, to his estimation a “very negative thing.”
Nevertheless, King’s colleagues did not force him to take down his tweet. And, until King rhetorically asked the Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” his fellow Republicans made no move to sanction him.
Even now, with King displaced from the perks of power, he’s getting off very lightly. Experience teaches us that on those occasions when Republicans want to rebuke a politician for controversial statements, they are more than capable of doing so with a wave of personal animus — as anyone on either side of recent bad-faith attacks on newly-elected Muslim Democrats, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), can attest. And when the GOP’s vindictiveness is in full flower, they are capable of getting the mass media to largely play along and lend credence to their case.
Whenever Republicans truly desire to do so, they can manifest a potent bloodletting that lingers on cable news for days. The simple fact of the matter is that they don’t really want to do the same to King.
Much of the reporting around King’s interview in Politico belies the notion that he’s been the subject of a metaphorical lynch mob. As Politico’s Melanie Zanona reports, King’s complaints are coming hard on the heels of Rep. Ralph Norman’s (R-SC) effort to get his fellows to restore King’s committee assignments during Tuesday’s meeting of the party’s conference. This coincides with another effort among a group of “hard-line conservatives” — including Reps. Norman, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Brian Babin (R-TX) — bent on petitioning for King’s full restoration. While these efforts have, thus far, fallen short, it’s a far cry from the banishment that King claims to be enduring.
King is likely to keep beating this woeful drum regardless of whether or not he returns to the good graces of his party, because he’s successfully made this outcast act work for him and he returns to it, again and again, whether or not there’s any basis for the claim. Painting himself as perpetually persecuted enabled him to survive a robust effort to defeat him in 2018.
And while he’s drawn opponents for his next primary election, the unwillingness of Republicans to finally, forcefully break with King will do nothing but imperil the efforts of any primary opponent to knock off an entrenched incumbent who’s not yet paid any electoral price at home for his controversies afield. Far from afflicting King, his colleagues are enabling him.
As Zanona reports, King retains the president as an ally, which will likely put paid to any inter-party effort to unseat him, or any further sanction from Republicans in Washington. Nevertheless, you can expect King, the martyr bearing no stigmata scars, to keep up this act despite the fact that it is a thoroughgoing sham.