The Staying Power of Steve King
Democrats conquered in the House on Tuesday night, picking up more than enough seats to secure a majority in the chamber. In Iowa alone, two GOP congressmen were unseated by women challengers.
But, at the end of the night, from under all the dust and rubble, emerged Steve King.
King, the Iowa Republican whose nativist rhetoric has brought a lot of unusual attention to the state’s Fourth Congressional District, didn’t exactly soar to victory: His opponent, Democrat J. D. Scholten came closer than any of King’s previous eight Democratic opponents, propelling a 19-point swing toward the Democrats from 2016. But it wasn’t enough.
[ Read: Steve King’s improbable ascendance ]
That’s for two reasons: First, it’s a really Republican district, the reddest in the state. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by 27 percentage points in 2016. Second, King has been in Congress for 16 years. “People know him,” says the state Republican strategist David Oman. “Iowans love stability.”
King’s history of inflammatory remarks dates back more than a decade , but for most people, it was the “cantaloupes” comment that put him on the map. In 2013, King famously told Newsmax that for every child of undocumented immigrants “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” At the time, House Speaker John Boehner called the comments “deeply offensive and wrong,” but King stood by them .
But since then, King has amped up his incendiary comments. Last year, he tweeted in support of the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, writing that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” (For this, King was praised by the former KKK grand wizard David Duke). In July, he retweeted a British white nationalist and self-described “Nazi sympathizer.” These actions sparked criticism from the GOP leaders House Speaker Paul Ryan and Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, and prompted Scholten, a paralegal and former professional baseball player, to launch a campaign against him.
King was still expected to coast to victory in 2018. But that changed after the mass shooting in Pittsburgh in late October—when 11 Jewish worshippers were killed in an apparent anti-Semitic attack. Many on the left blamed President Donald Trump and other Republicans for stoking tensions with their nativist rhetoric. In the days after the shooting, King, who had just returned from a meeting with a member of a Nazi-linked party in Austria , was questioned about how his own comments could be contributing to violence.
The Republican Steve Stivers, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, denounced his rhetoric. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior,” Stivers wrote in a statement. Three major agriculture businesses subsequently said that they would no longer support King, and Scholten’s campaign received an immediate influx of cash.
For all that, though, King managed to hang on—albeit by his slimmest election margin ever. He beat Scholten 50 to 47 percent last night to win a ninth term in office.
How’d he do it? The residents of Northwest Iowa voted for him in spite of it all.
The district, which covers the northwest and north-central parts of the state, is mostly rural and overwhelmingly white, and King is a good ideological fit. Northwest Iowa, which has been referred to as the state’s “Bible belt,” is highly religious, and its voters are very socially conservative: They support King’s views on abortion and gun control. King also sits on the House Committee on Agriculture—farming is a major industry in the district—and has successfully sold himself as the enemy of big government.
“People know that he will sometimes pop off or say something that’s extreme, or even quite troublesome. But those other reasons cause them to stay with him,” Oman says. Plus, he says, many people point to how King presents himself in person and on the campaign trail. “One-on-one it’s really hard not to like the guy,” he adds. “He’s whip-smart, and he’s got a good sense of humor.”
That’s the sense I got from my interviews this summer with several King supporters. “He represents the morals and ethics of his district, not so much the outspoken voice,” said Bill Tentinger, a 69-year-old farmer and pork producer from outside Sioux City. Like most of King’s supporters, Tentinger wants his congressman to be pro-life, prioritize agriculture, and advocate for strict immigration laws. But still Tentinger sees some daylight between him and his congressman. “I’m not totally in step with Congressman King on his immigration comments,” Tentinger told me, noting that he wouldn’t support King “if we’re going to round up all the immigrants and ship them out of here.”
King may have escaped defeat, but going into 2020, he’ll have to tread carefully. Democrats came within spitting distance of the seat for the first time in years, and Scholten now has a state, and national, platform if he decides to run again. But while other scandal-plagued politicians might consider toning down their rhetoric to bolster their election chances, King probably isn’t one of them.
“There are districts where you can pretty much go out into the middle of the street and shoot someone, and you’ll get reelected,” said Steffen Schmidt, a political-science professor at Iowa State University, explaining King’s staying power. “Oops, I guess somebody else said that .”
Texas ‘Cruz & Beto’ neighbors stir Facebook drama
Two Texas neighbors who tried to spread a message of political civility are being shredded on Facebook for displaying their “privilege.” Richard White of Dallas posted an Oct. 21 Facebook photo of a man and a woman holding opposing signs, one in support of the newly elected Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and the other in support of his former challenger, Democrat Beto O’Rourke .
“This Longhorn fan prefers Ted Cruz. This Aggie fan prefers Beto. We may not agree on political candidates, but we definitely agree that relationships matter more than politics,” wrote White. “Our families play games together, break bread together, drink wine together, float rivers together, and love a great party with other friends and neighbors. We treat each other with respect, disagree agreeably (and often with humor), and try, although not always successfully, to show our kids how responsible adults who don’t agree on everything should act. Be civil. Have conversations with people who don’t think like you. If everyone thought the same, it would be boring anyway. And love your neighbor.”
This Longhorn fan prefers Ted Cruz. This Aggie fan prefers Beto. We may not agree on political candidates, but we…
Posted by Richard White on Sunday, October 21, 2018
The photo was shared 24K times. Many people appreciated its message of tolerance and respectful disagreement, but others disliked what they thought of as a tone-deaf display of privilege.
“If you can truly ‘agree to disagree’ because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter? Then you live with an enormous amount of privilege,” wrote Oregon author Stephanie Tait, whose Facebook response to White’s post was shared almost 12,000 times. “It’s no coincidence that both of the people in this photo are white and appear to live in a nice middle/upper-class suburban neighborhood.”
“Could you just laugh and agree to disagree with someone who believes you should be deported?” she wrote. “With someone who believes your access to health care should be completely taken away to make their’s cheaper? With someone who believes your employer should have the right to fire you because they disagree with your religious beliefs? With someone who believes you should be denied the right to adopt your foster child because you’re single or in a same-sex marriage? If you’re able to ‘agree to disagree’ like it’s all no big deal, if you can ignore political coverage to ‘focus on real life,’ or if you can stop thinking about politics once election season is over? Then respectfully, you either aren’t aware the enormous amount of privilege you enjoy or worse yet you are aware and have chosen to isolate yourself from the realities of those who aren’t as lucky because it simply isn’t your problem.”
White and Tait did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
Conservatives and liberals often have similar traits, but just express them differently. A 2016 study published in the journal Social Psychology of Political Polarization found that supporters of both parties feel empathy toward those less fortunate than they are. As reported by Business Insider, the study found that conservatives tend to express this empathy toward members of their family, while liberals extend the feeling to the population at large.
And a 2017 study conducted at Yale University found that a desire to feel safe motivated people’s political ideas. In experiments, conservatives who felt physically safe from harm tended to express more liberal social attitudes.
As for personal friendships, July 2017 research from the Pew Research Center found that 19 percent of people surveyed said learning that a friend supported President Trump would be problematic for them, as opposed to the 7 percent of people who reported that they would have an issue with friends who voted for Hillary Clinton.
On a more optimistic note, Pew found that 56 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats reported that they believed that people in the opposing political party held “many of my other values and goals.”
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