Where exactly does the GOP draw the line on white supremacy?


Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) may soon be lonelier than the Maytag repairman.

Over the last few days, Democrats and even his fellow Republicans have lined up to denounce him for comments he made in a New York Times profile about him and his nativist views: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King insists that his comments were taken out of context, and that he was referring only to “Western civilization” when he asked, “How did that language become offensive?” But his colleagues don’t appear to be buying what he’s selling.

The head of his own caucus, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), stripped him of his committee assignments Monday, leaving King nothing to do but introduce legislation that will never be taken up and track down his constituents’ missing Social Security checks. The next day, the full House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning white nationalism and white supremacy — a resolution King voted for, even though it cites his comments directly — and some Democrats want the House to vote to censure him.


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I point these developments out not to express sympathy for King, one of the least sympathetic members in the past few decades. Instead, I’m just wondering how King’s latest outrage was different from all the ones that came before, and why the hammer is coming down only now. Although some top House Republicans have denounced his comments in the past, including then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), this week appears to be the first time he’s ever been sanctioned for them.

During his decade and a half in the House, King has frequently expressed his unvarnished views about the superiority of Western civilization (which he says white people contributed more to than any other group) and the dangers of diluting it with multiculturalism. He’s also buddied up to pols around the world who make no secret of their support for hateful ideologies, including white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The New York Times compiled a useful timeline of King’s, umm, questionable remarks and endorsements, including his embrace of a Canadian politician who appeared to support neo-Nazism and a Dutch legislator who called the Koran “worse than ‘Mein Kampf.’”

This history may explain why King’s GOP colleagues didn’t rally to defend him when he argued that the New York Times mischaracterized his position. But why did they put up with it until now?

King’s defenders might point to the several congressional Democrats who have met with and in some cases praised the work of Louis Farrakhan, the black nationalist leader of the Nation of Islam who has likened Jews to termites. Those members have been criticized in conservative and pro-Israel circles, but not publicly rebuked by their party’s leadership the way King has been.

But King’s problems go beyond the people he’s endorsed. It’s the words coming out of his mouth. And while the quote in the New York Times may be more explicit, it’s not far removed from the sort of things he’s been saying for years.