There have been plenty of recent signs that America’s most open and notorious white-supremacist congressman, Steve King of Iowa, is in some real trouble as he seeks a tenth U.S. House term next year. He’s been stripped of his committee assignments by the House GOP leadership. He was dissed and ignored in his own district by Donald J. Trump, who as you might have heard has a pretty high level of tolerance for racism and nativism. And he has at least one primary opponent, state senator Randy Feenstra, who is beating King’s socks off in early fundraising.
But this could be the most ominous sign of all for the old bigot, as reported by the Des Moines Register:
The president of The Family Leader, a prominent conservative Iowa organization, endorsed Rep. Steve King’s primary opponent Thursday. Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO for the evangelical group, announced his support for Iowa Sen. Randy Feenstra in the 4th District Republican primary …
“Randy is a man of integrity who is guided by his faith and someone Iowans can trust to faithfully represent them in Congress,” Vander Plaats said in a news release. “As a state senator he has defended Christian values, protected the unborn and stood tall against the progressive agenda in Des Moines that would undermine religious liberty, sanctity of human life, and our constitutional freedoms.”
Vander Plaats has been a long-time supporter of King, but his position changed after seeing the Kiron Republican’s comments in the New York Times on white nationalism and white supremacy.
In January, he tweeted that King’s comments were “a bridge too far.”
That seems to be the consensus view among Republican opinion leaders nationally and in Iowa.
If you’re not familiar with Vander Plaats — often called Iowa’s Republican “Kingmaker” — he is the abiding symbol of the Christian right’s grip on the national GOP via the Iowa caucuses. I think his actual influence is sometimes overstated — he has, after all, run unsuccessfully for governor three times — but Vander Plaats does have a jeweler’s eye for picking winners. He offered strategically valuable endorsements to each of the last three Caucus winners (Huckabee, Santorum, and Cruz), none of whom were early favorites to win in Iowa. So when you hear he’s tossed Steve King over the side of the Good Ship Wingnut, you should listen.
I was at the Family Leader’s annual clambake — dubbed the Family Leadership Summit — back in 2012, and Vander Plaats and King were certainly thick as thieves then. It was the day after Mitt Romney had pleased the Christian right by choosing Paul Ryan as his running-mate, but the introduction of “Iowa’s own” King received more enthusiastic applause from the crowd than when Ryan’s name was first mentioned.
At this year’s Family Leadership Summit (held just a week ago), King was nowhere in sight. There were certainly plenty of other members of Congress around, including senators Cotton, Ernst, Lankford, Sasse, and Scott. Vander Plaats even invited a number of Democratic presidential candidates (they all decided they had more pressing engagements). If King was around, he must have been wearing a disguise.
Vander Plaats’s citation of Feenstra’s sterling “Christian values,” anti-abortion record, and hostility to progressivism is likely aimed at reinforcing the challenger’s implicit argument that King’s ideology wasn’t the problem — it was his indiscreet and undisciplined manner which cost Iowa the clout he once exercised in Washington (definitely a cardinal sin in such a politically attuned state).
If King manages to dig out of the hole he’s dug for himself with his own big mouth, he will earn grudging respect, though not enough to offset the nausea induced by seeing him on the political stage in Washington for another two years. My guess is that if Bob Vander Plaats adjudges him a goner, he’ll be gone.