Iowa Rep. Steve King has been making racist comments for years, so why are his fellow Republicans suddenly getting semi-serious about condemning him? They’ve stripped him of committee assignments and are getting ready to try to take him out in his next primary, after years spent ignoring things like the claim that teenage migrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Is it the fact that King overtly defended white supremacy, in so many words, saying “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Is that the Republican line in the sand that gets current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Speaker Paul Ryan competing over who was responsible for letting King’s racism fester? (McCarthy passed the buck to Ryan by saying that he himself had been in charge for “a short amount of time,” while Ryan’s former aides want it to be known that Ryan was tougher on King than McCarthy.)
Or is it just the fact that King looks weak and makes a convenient scapegoat? A Democratic challenger came within a few points of him in 2018, which means he’d likely face a stronger opponent in 2020. And, as a former aide to former Speaker John Boehner pointed out, Republicans have lost ground with suburban voters who may not want to associate themselves with a proud white supremacist, so King could hurt his party’s effort to win back some suburban seats.
But the same aide pointed to the ultimate futility of Republicans getting all huffy about King: “Whatever we do on Steve King is on the margins compared to what the president says and does.” Republicans have given Steve King free rein for this long. They are the party of Donald Trump. They don’t get to suddenly claim the high ground because, at a politically advantageous moment, they punished King’s explicit embrace of white supremacy.
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