There is no greater challenge in covering national politics these days than simply trying to keep up with the daily outrages emanating from Washington. Take, for example, the fact that, two weeks ago, all we were talking about was the fact that the Jeff Sessions, the attorney general and nation’s highest law enforcement official, lied to Congress. This week you hear only crickets on Sessions.
But here’s one story that should not fall through the cracks: Representative Steve King of Iowa. Earlier this week King shared an article on Twitter offering his support for the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has based his political ascendancy on bashing Muslim immigrants. King added the words, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
These comments are catnip to white nationalists.
In fact, former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard David Duke retweeted King with the words “GOD BLESS STEVE KING.”
Not surprisingly, the reaction from Democrats was one of revulsion and demands for an apology. King, however, was undeterred.
On Monday, King repeated his offensive words and added, “You’ve got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values and, in doing so, then you can grow your population and you can strengthen your culture, you can strengthen your way of life.” According to King, he wants to see an America that is “homogenous” and one where “we look a lot the same.”
This is not King’s first time at the racist rodeo. Back in July he raised questions about the contributions of nonwhite people to “civilization.” A virulent opponent of immigration, King has called for an electrified fence to be built on the US-Mexico border to give electric shocks to those trying to enter the country. Back in 2013 he said that for every successful child of an undocumented immigrant there are 100 more drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs. King also has been photographed with a confederate battle flag in his congressional office.
To put it simply, Steve King is a racist.
And yet, it seems that being a racist — one who has repeatedly made prejudicial comments about blacks and Hispanics — is not the kind of thing that gets you drummed out of the modern Republican Party. Indeed, it seems to have no impact at all.
After King’s cantaloupe comment, then-House Speaker John Boehner called the congressman’s words “deeply offensive and wrong.” Current Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction to King’s latest remarks was more muted. “I disagree with that statement,” Ryan said. He added, “I’d like to think that he misspoke and it wasn’t really meant the way that that sounds and hopefully he’s clarified that.”
But when it comes to mealy-mouthed condemnations of blatantly racist and xenophobic comments, Ryan can’t hold a candle to White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who said, “The president believes that this is not a point of view that he shares.”
Several Hispanic Republican congressmen condemned King’s remarks, but most Republicans have been silent. Calls to censure King or strip him of his chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Rights have been ignored.
While some might be inclined to dismiss King as a fringe figure, the very fact that so few Republicans are willing to criticize him speaks volumes. They clearly don’t want to alienate those voters who agree with King’s racist remarks. It’s yet one more reminder of the extent to which white nationalism and open racism have become normalized within the modern Republican Party.
Indeed, earlier this month, the Huffington Post ran a disturbing piece on the grotesque, virulently racist book “The Camp of the Saints,” which top White House advisor Steve Bannon has used to describe the influx of nonwhite, Muslim refugees into Europe. The book describes the destruction of white, Christian Europe, by nonwhite immigrants led by an Indian demagogue. In the book, Europe is overrun by poor, nonwhite migrants.
Bannon’s endorsement of this grotesque piece of literature is at pace with the policies he’s promoted since becoming the president’s top strategist: from the travel-ban executive order that specifically targets Muslims to its focus on building a wall on the US-Mexico, all to keep out nonwhite immigrants. Guess who else recently plugged “The Camp of the Saints.” Yup: Steve King.
Even after a campaign in which Donald Trump ran on an unambiguous platform of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, it has, somehow, become inappropriate to identify the role that white nationalism plays in defining and uniting the modern Republican Party. Yet when people like Steve King continue to play leadership roles in the GOP and avoid condemnation for racist remarks, what more evidence do we need that many GOP voters, rather than being turned off by the open embrace of race-based appeals from Republican leaders, find them attractive. Steve King is not some fringe figure — he’s the mainstream of the modern Republican Party.
That’s one story that cannot be ignored.
MICHAEL A. COHEN
Michael A. Cohen is a regular contributor for The Boston Globe on national politics and foreign affairs. He is also the author of “American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division.” Michael has written for dozens of news outlets, including as a columnist for the Guardian and Foreign Policy and he is the US Political Correspondent for the London Observer. He previously worked as a speechwriter at the US State Department and has been a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.