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The Proto-Trump

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The only Republican House member from Iowa to survive the 2018 midterms has some thoughts:

Early in Mr. Trump’s term, the president invited Mr. King — who was long snubbed by establishment Republicans like the former House speaker John A. Boehner — to the Oval Office. There, the president boasted of having raised more money for the congressman’s campaigns than anyone else, including during a 2014 Iowa visit, Mr. King recalled in an interview with The Times.

“Yes, Mr. President,” Mr. King replied. “But I market-tested your immigration policy for 14 years, and that ought to be worth something.”

Mr. King, a 69-year-old former bulldozer operator with a combative manner, who has been elected nine times, helped write the book on white identity politics that are ascendant in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party. That provides both a template for Mr. Trump and a warning.

Mr. King’s full-throated embrace of nativism has long found a supportive constituency in the rural Midwest, the region that was a key to Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory and represents his most likely path to re-election.

But at the same time, Mr. King’s margin of victory in 2018 shrank to its narrowest in 16 years. He made national headlines for endorsing a Toronto mayoral candidate with neo-Nazi ties and for meeting with a far-right Austrian party accused of trivializing the Holocaust. On Twitter, he follows an Australian anti-Semitic activist, who proposed hanging a portrait of Hitler “in every classroom.” And in October, the chairman of the Republican House elections committee, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, condemned Mr. King, saying, “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms.”

Mr. King lost corporate agriculture donors like Purina, Land O’Lakes and Smithfield. He dropped from an 18-point lead over his Democratic opponent in his internal polls to barely squeaking out a three-point win on Election Day. On Wednesday, Mr. King drew a formidable challenger for his Fourth District seat in the 2020 Republican primary: Randy Feenstra, an assistant majority leader in the State Senate, who said Mr. King had left Iowa “without a seat at the table” because of “sideshows” and “distractions.’’

Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist. He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. (The same office once displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.)

At the same time, he said, he supports immigrants who enter the country legally and fully assimilate because what matters more than race is “the culture of America” based on values brought to the United States by whites from Europe.

White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

It’s a coalition built around economic anxiety. Anyway, I hope this won’t crowd out discussion of the real threats to civil discourse in America, like a member of Congress swearing.

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