Steve King, the Nativist Who Just Comes Right Out and Says It

Representative Steve King is the juvenile delinquent in the conservative schoolyard. Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Nothing upsets conservative “nationalists” like Stephen Bannon more than the charge that bigotry is at the center of the movement that gave us President Trump. While Bannon admits there is racism and anti-Semitism at the fringes of the alt-right, with which his old journalistic perch at Breibart has associated, he insists on treating such influences as marginal.

It is worth remembering that this is a persistent claim among right-bent political activists who may or may not themselves be bigoted, but who are clearly trafficking in appeals to bigots. When George Wallace shifted his focus from defending segregation to attacking unpopular desegregation methods like school busing, he argued he was just favoring the color-blind posture of his old enemies in the civil-rights movement. But he — and we — knew better when it came to the visceral politics of race he espoused.

The effort to marginalize the role of racial or religious bigots in cultural conservatism works best when everybody’s got the memo and is refusing to say things that cross the line. But right there in Washington, within close proximity of the cameras, is at least one member of Congress who, to use a phrase sometimes said of Wallace in his heyday, just comes right out and says it: Iowa’s Steve King. No, King doesn’t admit to racially or religiously discriminatory sentiments, as much as he flirts with them. But for years he has been closely associated (along with his very close friend, former Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado) with a brand of nativism that views both illegal and legal immigration as threats to what can only be described as European-American “civilization,” and who is willing to trade in crude stereotypes of people of color.

A case in point was probably King’s most infamous comment, suggesting that most “Dreamers” actually “weigh a hundred and thirty pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert.” He was careful to claim that such interlopers were a threat not to white racial hegemony, but to “our culture and civilization.” But it’s hard to see much of a difference in King’s usage.

King is back in the news this week for going out of his way on Twitter to associate with Dutch extremist politician Geert Wilders, who favors closing all mosques and banning the Koran.

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King wrote. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Given a chance to walk the tweet back, King characteristically refused.

“You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. 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,” King said.

King called Western Civilization a “superior culture” and said some cultures contribute more to American society than others.

You can guess which “culture” contributed the most.

After repeated requests for a comment, House Speaker Paul Ryan mildly indicated he “disagreed” with King’s perspective. So, too, did Iowa Republican Party chairman Jeff Kauffman and Governor Terry Branstad, who has himself been nominated to represent the United States to the 1.4 billion nonwhite, non-Western people of China. Kauffman and Branstad also mentioned their general appreciation of Steve King’s great service to the people of Iowa, perpetuating the silly game of pretending the man doesn’t say this sort of thing all the time.

But you can appreciate why Iowa Republicans won’t go too far in rebuking the wiggy congressman: He is likely the most popular Republican pol in the state. He was generally conceded a Senate nomination in 2014 had he wanted it; the prize instead went to Joni Ernst. Even though he is often a poor fundraiser who takes to the campaign trail late, he is unassailable in his district, as was best demonstrated in 2012 when he defeated a well-financed and popular Democrat, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, by a landslide despite inheriting a lot of new turf through redistricting.

And so he hangs around like a juvenile delinquent in the schoolyard, embarrassing his colleagues and giving Democrats box after box of ammunition. He’s not going to clean up his act: As a “Constitutional conservative,” King believes his view of the world is derived from the infallible will of the divinely inspired Founders. And as long as other conservatives and other Republicans continue to praise him with faint damn, he’ll be a continuing threat to the self-presentation of Trumpian “nationalists” as smiling equally on all kinds of people, notwithstanding their race, religion, or culture.

Steve King, a Nativist Who Just Comes Right Out and Says It