Why Steve King's spin on his 'white supremacist' comments just doesn't work

In the wake of his House Republican colleagues stripping Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King's committee assignm...

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 9:48 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 9:48 PM

In the wake of his House Republican colleagues stripping Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King's committee assignments after he openly wondered how -- and why -- terms like "white supremacist" became a bad thing, King tried to fight back with the age-old "but context!" argument.

"Leader McCarthy's decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth," said King in a statement released Monday night. "The truth is as follows: One of my quotes in a New York Times story has been completely mischaracterized."

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How, you ask? Well, it's complicated, but the basic argument goes like this: King and Trip Gabriel, The New York Times reporter who wrote the piece on King that has caused all the controversy, talked for a long time (56 minutes, according to King) and that what King was really wondering about was when "Western civilization" became a bad word, not when "white supremacist" or "white nationalist" did.

Here's the full quote from King to Gabriel: "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

It seems pretty clear what he's saying there -- and it doesn't comport with his explanation that, after a list of allegedly offensive terms, he was only referencing the last one ("Western civilization") when he wondered when it became offensive.

In a vacuum, you might be willing to give King the benefit of the doubt. He misspoke. He spoke inarticulately. Whatever.

The problem of course is that King doesn't live in a vacuum -- and neither do the rest of us. And the same context that King wants us to consider when it comes to his quote to The New York Times dooms his attempt to cast this whole thing as one big misunderstanding.

Consider this far-from-complete list of King's controversial comments and actions over the past few years:

Notice a common theme emerging? King has repeatedly given voice to racist views -- and then either said he didn't mean to say what he said, he didn't know what he was doing was wrong or, yes, he was misquoted.

On the House floor Tuesday, King maintained that the quote was taken out of context. "There is no tape for this interview. ... The New York Times has a different version of this. They make a habit of attacking the President."

Here's the thing: If you have a proven track record of saying racist things, you are a racist. That's it.

Now, I understand why King wants to make this all about how the GOP leadership in the House is being mean to him and how some reporter for The New York Times treated him badly. (FYI: Trip Gabriel didn't.) Because the alternative is to accept, well, that he holds racist views. And that's a tough pill to swallow.

The other problem created by King's attempted explanation is that it makes very clear that he has NO plans to leave the House anytime soon. By trying to fight back -- against both the media and the Republican leadership -- King is trying to rally the Trump base behind him one last time. He's trying to cast this whole thing as a liberal -- wait for it -- witch hunt, and his refusal to back down as a courageous (and principled) stand against the ever-encroaching forces of political correctness.

Which means that statements like this one from Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney -- "I agree with Leader McConnell. I think (King) should find another line of work" -- don't really mean much. King won -- albeit narrowly -- in 2018, despite having a well-funded opponent who centered the campaign on the series of very controversial racist statements King has made over the years.

The same argument that makes clear King carries racist views (he's been spouting them for years!) also makes the case for why it will be tough for Republicans to remove him from office if he doesn't want to go (he's been spouting racist views for years!) Voters knew at least most of what they were getting when they elected King last November. His latest comment to The New York Times is simply a(nother) way of saying what he believes -- and has been saying -- for years. It's not anything new.

All of which means two things: 1) Steve King isn't some sort of misunderstood racial healer (or even someone with anything close to mainstream views on race) and 2) Steve King is likely to be a problem for House Republicans for months to come.

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