House Republicans Should Have Learned From Steve King

This shouldn’t be that hard.

As House Republicans give up on how to deal with dangerous conspiracy theorist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it’s hard not to see some parallels to Iowa’s own Steve King situation. And that makes it all the more ridiculous and unacceptable that the question of whether to strip committees from someone as unfit for public office as Greene is still giving Republicans headaches.

Much like King, Greene has become a national embarrassment for Republicans. As the party tries to distance itself from the politically damaging aspects of Trumpism while still retaining its benefits, Greene is reminding everyone just how much the party and its voters continue to embrace authoritarianism, racism and political violence.

What’s odd about the indecision over what to do with Greene is that there’s already a model of how to handle these kind of extremists. Just look back to when Kevin McCarthy stripped King of his committee assignments in early 2019 after King’s remarks on white nationalism to the New York Times and his near-upset loss in the 2018 election.

When King finally became too much of a political liability for the party, enough leaders put the wheels in motion to get rid of him. They succeeded in doing so, with Randy Feenstra, then a state senator, ousting King in the June 2020 primary, something once thought to be impossible.

Notably, this wasn’t due to any sort of change of heart on whether King’s racist rhetoric had finally gone too far. It’s because Democrat J.D. Scholten very nearly defeated King in a shocker in 2018, and Republicans didn’t want to lose a safe red seat in 2020.

But stripping King of his committee assignments was a major blow to his reelection effort. It gave his primary challengers a powerful argument about King’s effectiveness. More importantly, it gave conservative voters who largely agreed with King an out — even if you disagree with what national Republicans did to him, the fact remains: he can’t get anything done now for the 4th District.

It also gave a clear signal to Republican donors not usually put off enough by his rhetoric that they needed to disengage. King faced a serious conservative challenger who, even if most of the GOP establishment was not openly endorsing Feenstra, they were supporting him behind the scenes.

Because of that, King’s campaign essentially went broke during the primary, and he was unable to run any ads defending himself. And when you have one candidate like Feenstra running a serious, professional campaign that communicates with voters and one with King that literally does not at all, you end up with a defeated incumbent.

And if there’s a lesson to be learned from King, it’s that you need to nip these problems in the bud, not let them fester for years until they become an outright disaster — the situation that Greene already is in. And you need to do it early for this very important reason: extremists like King and Greene are never going to change.

Seriously, how naive can Republicans like McCarthy continue to be, even after everything they experienced during the Trump era, that these sociopaths really are what they say they are? Part of the Republican hesitation has apparently been them trying to ascertain whether Greene still holds these beliefs. Like, come on. King never moderated his views or learned how to just shut up about them. But Greene will?

It now appears that McCarthy will not act on Greene, triggering Democrats’ decision to hold a House vote tomorrow on removing Greene from her committees. That will force Republican swing district incumbents to take a public vote on whether to protect a wildly dangerous member of Congress.

This decision only worsens Republicans’ situation and makes it harder for them to ever really get rid of Greene. Imagine if King had been removed by Democratic leadership instead of his own? How different would his run in 2020 been then? This cowardly failure by McCarthy to deal with Greene within the caucus only empowers Greene and will likely make her stronger in any future primary.

To be fair, though, King and Greene are not a perfect comparison, and there might be bigger challenges with ousting Greene through a primary.

For one, Greene is part of a current extremist movement that is very organized, energized and vocal right now (even if QAnon took a hit following Joe Biden’s inauguration). They are willing to openly defend her and organize around her.

King’s core beliefs on white nationalism and racial replacement theory certainly have a following in America, but haven’t enjoyed widespread support in public the way QAnon has lately. Most Republicans nominally condemn that sort of thing and pretend like it’s not part of their movement, even as they constantly promote racial resentment in their campaigns.

Greene also seems much more skilled and focused at whipping up that base of support, whereas King mostly just made incendiary and racist statements in speeches and interviews without any larger strategy. And, as dumb as it is, she fits the more photogenic model of successful right-wing politicians in recent years in a way that the 70-something King did not.

And much of the Iowa primary for King fell in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic here, so not only was King’s campaign broke, the congressman also didn’t get around the district much.

All that being said, just because Greene better fits the zeitgeist of the organized extreme right at the moment, that doesn’t mean she couldn’t be very vulnerable to defeat in a GOP primary soon. There’s chatter online in the Q movement of breaking off from the Republican Party. There’s also widespread disillusionment after all their wild theories were proven wrong with Biden’s inauguration. Greene’s core political base of conspiracy theorists could melt enough away in the coming years to weaken her position.

And while Greene can raise grassroots money in a way King didn’t, her efforts brought in $160,000 yesterday, which… kinda doesn’t seem like that much given the circumstances? She’s the national story right now, the face of QAnon.

Of course, alternatively, Republicans could have decided they need to rid Congress of Greene because she and her views are morally repugnant and she’s an active threat to American democracy itself — and very possibly a mortal threat to them personally. But if they really need a political one, well, there it is — look back at the Steve King experience, how it nearly cost Republicans a seat, and how there was a real path to getting rid of him.

By their inaction today, Republicans have ensured their Greene problems will only get worse.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/3/21

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