If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump

If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump
© Getty Images

The king has no clothes. He has been stripped bare and, this time, some in his own party are pulling away his garments, exposing him for what he is.

I am talking about Representative Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingThe Hill's Morning Report — Combative Trump aims at Pelosi before Russia report Steve King's campaign spent more than it raised last quarter It's time for a 'Congressional Jewish Caucus' MORE, who in an interview for the New York Times last week declared, “White nationalism, white supremacy, Western civilization. How did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and civilization?”

This is why some members of Congress should be required to pass some kind of standardized admissions test. In this case, the exam would be on history. Language is offensive when it seems to harken nostalgically to the capture and enslavement of blacks to serve their white masters, to the lynchings, to the cross burnings, to the poll taxes, and to the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany requiring racial purity to save Aryan civilization.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, King is no stranger to racial epithets. The Iowa Republican does not just spew them, he seems to chew on them delightfully. They lay on his tongue like a beef jerky. In 2013, he said that for every illegal immigrant who is a valedictorian, “there is another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they have calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

In 2017, he tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last October, he endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate with far right ties including appearing on the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, and promoting a 1936 book calling for the elimination of the “Jewish menace.” The candidate later walked back, claiming she had not read the entire book. Geography might be another admissions test for King. Why would an American representative endorse a Canadian mayoral candidate? Maybe he thought it was an election down in Toronto, Iowa.

This time, however, the response to King is different. The Republicans who in the past winked at his statements have instead slammed them. He lost his committee assignments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyWatchdog: Custodial staff alleged sexual harassment in lawmakers' offices John Legend, Chrissy Teigen lash out at Trump at Dem retreat Republicans call for ex-Trump lawyer Cohen to be referred to DOJ MORE stated that his language was “reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society.” Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyRep. Cheney: Socialism 'driving the agenda of the Democratic Party' Dem lawmaker offers tool for 'filling in the blanks' of Green New Deal Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE said his remarks were “abhorrent and racist.” The two Republican senators from Iowa repudiated him. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senators dismiss Booker reparations proposal On The Money — Presented by Job Creators Network — GOP senators urge Trump not to nominate Cain | Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Party divisions force Dems to scrap budget vote | House passes IRS reform bill GOP senators urge Trump not to pick Cain for Fed MORE, the only black Republican senator, wrote in an editorial, “Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism. It is because of our silence when things like this are said.”

In his own Iowa district, two Republicans announced they will primary him. One potential challenger said, “Our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table.” The other promised not to “embarrass the state,” which seems to be a lackluster campaign slogan. Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush backed the challenge by tweeting, “Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won’t have the decency to resign.”

On that, Bush is absolutely right. Decency is not exactly high on the list of competencies of a man who predicted during the 2008 campaign that if Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJuan Williams: Buttigieg already making history Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Trump hits Romney for Mueller criticism MORE was elected president, “the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this war on terror.”

Republicans in Congress want to unyoke themselves from King in 2020. Removing him from his committees was a step in the right direction, especially for a party that is loath to fall out of step with supporters on the far right. Still, the initial reaction of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE was to sidestep the controversy. Our Twitter addicted and Fox feasting president somehow missed this breaking news on King, saying, “I haven’t been following it.”

That is the continuing problem. The Republicans can strip King of his committees, excoriate him, censure him, and reprimand him. But for as long as they refuse to challenge the president when he gives comfort to neo-Nazi marchers, vilifies immigrants, mocks Native Americans, and spews decisive rhetoric, then King is really just a pawn. So thank you, Republicans, for what you have started. But your work is just beginning.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.