By John Feehery - 06/23/14 04:40 PM EDT
Congressman Pete King (R-N.Y.), a familiar pugilist on cable television, took his message of a robust American foreign policy to New Hampshire for the sixth time over the weekend.
This was after a week of jousting with GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) about the direction of the Republican Party.
So what exactly is King up to?
What drives Pete King is the memory of the 9/11 attacks, where he lost friends, neighbors and constituents. He believes with great sincerity and passion that it is far more important for America to take the fight to the terrorists rather than retreat into a splendid isolation that libertarians think is achievable.
As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, King didn’t shy away from controversy. He held hearings on the radicalization of some elements of the Muslim community, which didn’t win him any friends with the ACLU but did establish him as a regular presence on television.
In fact, if John McCain is ubiquitous on the cable talkers, Pete King is only slightly behind him.
Unlike Cruz and Paul, King comes from a blue state and a majority Democratic district, where he has been able to routinely win close to 60 percent of the vote. It might be easy for the Canadian transplant to preach to the choir, but for King, he has to get converts in every election.
I suppose that is why King is so disgusted with Cruz, whom he calls a fraud. Shutting the government down might lead to cheers in Dallas, but on Long Island, it gets you the worst kind of Bronx jeer.
Bill Gavin, the former speechwriter to Richard Nixon and Bob Michel, once wrote a book called Street Corner Conservative about the white ethnic vote — mostly Catholic, reflexively conservative, distrustful of liberal policies, but believers in a strong and robust American military. Ronald Reagan made these white ethnics Republican, and Pete King embodies their ethos.
Can a “street corner conservative” like King make a real play for the White House? Is that why he is spending so much of his weekends in New Hampshire and television studios?
King sees an opening, especially if Chris Christie’s troubles in New Jersey prove to be insurmountable.
And besides, to Pete King, somebody has to stand up to the bullies who would shut the government down, scale back America’s national defense and call off our pursuit of terrorists.
King doesn’t want to see the party become a permanent minority at the presidential level. That’s why he has been a supporter of immigration reform, a position not popular with the talk-show-loving base of the Republican Party.
King’s pretty good at math, or at least he understands the basics of demographic change, and as son of Irish immigrants, he has a reflexive distaste of xenophobic latter-day know-nothings.
Now, King probably wouldn’t have been invited to Cruz’s study group at Harvard Law. King didn’t attend Harvard or Princeton, the prerequisites necessary to join that prestigious group, established by Cruz himself.
But he had enough smarts to graduate from Notre Dame Law School, and he has enough moxie to connect viscerally with the 99.99 percent of the country who wouldn’t qualify to study law with the junior Texas senator.
And that’s what I find most puzzling about this whole debate.
Ted Cruz is an elitist who somehow has been able to portray himself as a champion of the masses, while the son of a New York cop who worked full time loading and unloading freight cars and was a member of blue-collar union is seen as a defender of the Republican establishment.
Pete King might not necessarily be our next president, but he certainly would add a needed voice in the debate about the direction of our party and our country.
Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).