Republicans are fighting for their lives in the House this year, with the odds against their holding on to their majority. If they lose, it will mean divided government, Democratic-controlled committees embarking on fishing expeditions trying to hamstring the Trump administration, and possibly even impeachment of the president. But Republicans signaled this week that there is at least one competitive seat they are willing to lose.
Iowa representative Steve King is facing the toughest reelection fight of his eight-term career. Nonetheless, the National Republican Congressional Committee felt it had to draw a line in the stand between King and the rest of the party. The NRCC’s chairman, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, didn’t mince words:
Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.
— Steve Stivers (@RepSteveStivers) October 30, 2018
Will other Republicans — including voters in King’s district — agree? That remains to be seen, especially given that he won more than 60 percent of the vote in his past two elections.
But despite the high stakes, Stivers was right. While the Pittsburgh shooting has highlighted the danger of far-right extremism and Democrats have sought to weaponize the issue of anti-Semitism against Trump and other Republicans, it is imperative that conservatives make clear the distinction between their views and white nationalism.
King has claimed that the criticism he’s facing is “orchestrated by nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news,” whose “ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump. Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit.” But his problems are entirely of his own making. While he has long skirted the line between the merely controversial and the undeniably racist, two recent actions made it all but unavoidable for other Republicans to speak out.
In October, King endorsed Faith Goldy’s candidacy for mayor of Toronto. While billing herself in Trumpian terms — “Make Canada Safe Again” — she’s also an avowed white supremacist who has embraced a 14-word slogan, about securing a future for white people and white children, that is a popular mantra for neo-Nazis and other extremists. She has also appeared on a show hosted by the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, where she talked about the “JQ” — the “Jewish question,” also a Nazi reference.
That any American politician would feel impelled to make a statement about a Canadian municipal election is odd. But for King to do so on behalf of a person like Goldy speaks volumes about his connections to the far right.
But the breaking point for the NRCC was the revelation that he had met with members of the Austrian Freedom party, a far-right group founded by a veteran of the Nazi SS, and had done an interview with a publication aligned with that extremist faction. While the Freedom Party claims to have evolved into a more mainstream party after its extremist beginnings, the fact is that its members have continually engaged in behavior and statements that demonstrate that anti-Semitism is still part of its modus operandi.
The congressman has crossed the line before this. Last year, he endorsed the views of Dutch extremist Geert Wilders, saying, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” King has also retweeted various neo-Nazi figures even as he denies any connection with such hate groups.
Conservatives aren’t wrong to advocate for the rule of law against those who wish to legalize illegal immigrants or create “sanctuary cities” for them. The Democratic attempts to blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, and to smear as racist any attempt to improve the vetting of immigrants from terrorist hotbeds, are neither reasonable nor fair. But one can oppose these stands without engaging in rhetoric about the need to maintain America as a preserve for white people.
Some on the right see European parties opposed to Muslim immigration, including the Austrian Freedom party, as kindred spirits. But there is a vast difference between upholding the rule of law here and the issues at play in Europe. It is possible to argue that migrants from the Middle East or Africa are fundamentally transforming European nations that are based on a specific ethnic and religious identity, although groups like the Freedom Party speak out in a manner that is inextricably linked to some of the darkest ideas and moments in Western history.
But the United States is a nation founded on ideas about freedom. Those concepts were assumed, even by those living during the early years of the republic, to be universal rather than the property of the Scotch-Irish or English who predominated at the time. The republic founded on those ideas continued to thrive even as other peoples flocked to the United States, eventually turning the WASP majority into a minority. “Other people’s babies” have been not only upholding those ideas but fighting and dying for them since before Iowa became a state.
It is King who, by injecting race into the debate about immigration, is aiding the leftists who seek to delegitimize conservatives. Especially since the Pittsburgh attack, Trump has been accused of “dog-whistling” to extremists. King’s willingness to associate with open racists and even neo-Nazis isn’t just catnip for the Left; it cedes the high ground in the immigration debate, allowing conservatives to be accused of encouraging hate rather than defending the rule of law.
King’s comfort with white nationalism — as opposed to the nationalism of patriots who love their country as the standard-bearer of freedom — makes the false accusations of racism against other Republicans look credible. He is no victim of biased media or Trump-hating conservatives. He is, instead, a cautionary tale of what happens when conservatives allow a justified concern about a broken immigration system to turn into a debate about race and a conflict between whites and those who are black or brown.
Republicans cannot afford to adopt the profound pessimism in which American values and traditions are no match for the demographic change the country is experiencing and will continue to experience under any plausible immigration policy going forward. If conservatives wish to continue to be a party of government rather than a permanent minority, they must appeal to all Americans. That will be impossible if views such as King’s become mainstream GOP thought.
As much as the GOP needs King to hold that seat, his dalliances with racists and anti-Semites are too high a price to pay for it.