Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) recently set pretense aside when he wondered aloud why white nationalism is bad in front of a New York Times reporter. The congressman’s statements should not have come as a surprise, given his history, but his words seemed to catch some people on his side of the political aisle off their guard.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said in the interview, published Thursday. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Some of King’s fellow conservatives are now beginning to turn against him.
Ben Shapiro, a professional right-wing opinion-spewer, took a moment to update a 2017 blog post on King with a new take on Thursday. While Shapiro originally argued that it was not racist for King to tweet, on the subject of European immigration, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” he now feels differently. It is “not as implausible” anymore that King’s words were racist, Shapiro wrote.
The National Review was more explicit. “Dump Steve King,” read a headline on a piece from the site’s editors, who said the congressman “tars all conservatives with his irresponsibility.” Another right-wing site, The Daily Caller, shied away from calling King out but noted that he “has a long history of racially insensitive and anti-immigrant comments.”
As the backlash grew, King attempted to clarify his stance with a follow-up statement, saying that he “rejects” the label of white supremacy and simply considers himself a nationalist. (Much like the president.)
Congressional Republicans responded with varying force.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) described King’s first comments as “offensive,” but praised his clarifying statement. “I think it was important that he rejected that kind of evil,” Scalise said.
King’s fellow Iowans, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R), also spoke out against him.
Grassley told Axios that he finds it “offensive to claim white supremacy,” and pledged to “condemn it.” Ernst offered a more strongly worded response, writing over Twitter that King’s words are “offensive and racist ― and not representative of our state of Iowa.”
“We are a great nation and this divisiveness is hurting everyone. We cannot continue down this path if we want to continue to be a great nation,” she continued.
Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, went further by posting a stinging message stating that it’s not enough to condemn King. Rather, “Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won’t have the decency to resign.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) made waves when he suggested in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday that King lacks “some pretty common knowledge” and said that people like the Iowa congressman gave all Republicans a bad name. Later, however, the senator backed away from calling King a racist on Fox News and said King should not resign.
This story has been updated.