The week-long controversy over Steve King’s views on race and diversity came to a head yesterday during a candidate forum in Des Moines. Pressed by a member of the public over whether King’s ideology aligns with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, King exploded in anger, shouted at the man and had him tossed from the room. Starting Line captured the full exchange here:
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) November 1, 2018
The state and national pressure on King has been mounting since the weekend massacre in Pittsburgh. A Washington Post story, which King waved a print-off of in the air during the event and called “all lies,” detailed how he met with an Austrian political party with historical ties to Nazism while on a European trip funded by a Holocaust remembrance group.
“Let’s not deal with these falsehoods here,” King said, referring to the Washington Post story. “Anybody can pull up this story and take a look at it and know, the front page is false. Every word of it is false. Everything is built upon this false page right here. If you pull it out, everything collapses and it goes back to the truth.”
King blamed that for driving all the controversy in the final week of the campaign. He also went into detail about both his trip and the background of the Austrian Freedom Party, of which he met a member of while in Austria. He acknowledged the group’s ties to former Nazis when it was first founded, but insisted the party had since moved on. However, concerns over that Freedom Party’s Nazi roots were enough for Israel to cut off ties with Austria this year because of the party’s involvement in that country’s government.
Still, while the contentious exchange and King’s defense of his past statements dominated the attention online and in press stories, the other half of King’s forum was just as informative. The rest of it, which played out like any routine, dry public official event, showed in part why King has often survived such controversies back home.
King began his speech to the Des Moines Partnership forum with a simple highlight reel of things he listed as accomplishments, including the dredging of Storm Lake, finishing Highway 20’s four-lane expansion and his heartbeat bill that would ban most abortions. He also often brought up agricultural success in his district around renewable fuels.
“The 4th Congressional District is the number one renewable fuel-producing congressional district in all of America,” King said. “It didn’t get there by accident, and it didn’t get there by me alone, but I’ve been there with them, step by step, all the way.”
And King also explained at length his involvement in a Tanzania charity project that helps with medical care there. He closed by recounting his meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office where he pitched him on E15 ethanol expansion.
Only once in his opening remarks did he briefly mention immigration when he brought up his visa overstay idea that he presented Trump, though King gladly engaged on his various immigration and citizenship beliefs when responding to questions. But that focus on many of King’s less-controversial stances (his abortion beliefs are relatively more in line with his district and fellow Republicans) is what you often get at King’s public events throughout his district (the few that he does hold).
For many people outside of Iowa who can’t believe that King’s district keeps reelecting him, that’s some insight as to part of the reason why. When he’s talking in person throughout his district, King often presents himself a run-of-the-mill, very conservative Republican. For a rather conservative district, that works well for him.
It’s the national press interviews, his Twitter feed and overseas trips where King delves deep into far-right European political ideology and debates on diversity and heritage. That’s typically what drives all of the national news coverage on King and sometimes creates that disconnect between his national profile and his local one.
Now, why he chooses to engage in all that on that national level is anyone’s guess. But yesterday’s blow up, and especially the anger that King showed, is not a regular occurrence for him back in his district. That might be the version of King that national watchers would expect to see out of him, it’s just not what is often seen among his constituents.
And that’s the big problem for King: his national reputation is finally starting to catch up to him back home. This last round of controversies have cut through in an unique way, and what his voters are seeing isn’t pretty.
Perhaps some of them will find a way to dismiss it in their heads as they have with other national news stories in the past, but this situation does appear to be creating an opening for Democrats. After the party came up far short to King in year’s past, J.D. Scholten’s campaign is catching fire and has been completely unopposed in paid advertising.
We may just be seeing the perfect scenario where Steve King’s voters finally see the same Steve King that people around the country and world do. And no matter their partisan leanings, they too may want to be done with the constant controversy and embarrassment that King has brought to the state.
by Pat Rynard