He’s a man who managed to outdo Donald Trump in immigrant-bashing, racist dog-whistling, and all-purpose bigotry. But after convincing his House Republican colleagues he was too toxic to keep around, Iowa’s six-term Republican congressman Steve King finally lost his House seat in a primary election on Tuesday to a conservative state legislator who was as ideologically extreme as King without making the noise that cost the incumbent his power in the House.
King was stripped of his committees assignments in 2019 after expressing sympathy for white supremacists. Iowa Republicans, including Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Joni Ernst, collectively dropped the hammer on the man who once stood astride the Iowa GOP like a colossus. A number of candidates rushed to defenestrate King in the 2020 primary, but the front-runner all along was state senator Randy Feenstra, a state GOP leadership favorite with a solid electoral base in northwest Iowa.
All of these would-be congressmen chose not to run against King for being, you know, a bigot, but for being an ineffective bigot.
King attempted a late comeback by suggesting House Republicans would let him regain his committee assignments if he won another term, but House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy undercut the argument by hinting that the House Republican Steering Committee would likely reject King again.
In the end, King could not overcome Feenstra’s money and Establishment support or the clear indication that his district would continue to lack effective representation in the House.
But again, what the primary loss does not mean is some sort of repudiation of nativism or racism. These weren’t really issues in the primary.
It will be telling to see if Feenstra sounds like anything other than King in his general election contest with Democrat J.D. Scholten, who nearly beat King in 2018. Donald Trump won the district by 27 points in 2016, so Feenstra has no particular incentive to behave decently. But no one can out-demagogue Steve King.