Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Iowa GOP congressman Steve King did it again. The “again” is to tell the truth about his unabashed pride in being a white nationalist. You can hate everything he says and stands for. But you got to at least like his honesty on this.
However, King’s blunt feel good talk about white pride, Euro-American superiority, and the converse inferiority of anyone else finally got to a few of the GOP’s leading lights. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott called him a racist. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy claims he’ll have a talk with him and maybe even dump him from a few House committees. The two-step march back from him makes by the GOP regulars makes good copy for media and public consumption.
But really who’s kidding who? King isn’t saying anything about white nationalism and his love affair with it that he hasn’t said before. That’s many times before in one variation or another. In fact, he has made a political career out of saying the most outrageous, inflammatory racist quips and digs a sitting congressperson could think of. The nine-term incumbent got away with then and now because he knows two things will happen when says what he honestly feels
One. He’ll get loads of press attention and that in turn means lots of chatter about how terrible a guy he is or a wink and a nod that that’s just King being King again.
It’s the second thing, though, that’s the most telling. Before his latest verbal outrage, not one top GOP party leader or elected official uttered a word of disapproval, let alone outright condemned him.
That’s been par for the course for the GOP through decades of King’ racial broadsides. Before now, GOP apologists shrugged their shoulders and claimed that some GOP figures criticized King. That’s true, but the GOP figures they’re talking about were GOP outliers. There were no elected officials or top party leaders among the King alleged critics.
The other lame explanation for their silence is that keeping their mouths closed about King is the best way to make sure that his racial bile doesn’t get any media or public shelf life.
This might make some sense except for one thing. Long before King was ever thought of politically, GOP leaders never denounced any of the long line of racial bigots and their bigoted digs and actions. Whether King existed or not, this still won’t change for a very good reason. Peddling, pandering to, or ignoring racism and racists within and without the GOP has paid and continues to pay politically well for the GOP. A tip came during a cable talk show appearance in 2010, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly refused several direct, angled, and nuanced efforts to discuss racism in the Tea Party. The NAACP had just passed a resolution demanding that the GOP speak out and speak out loudly against the racists among them. But McConnell was having none of it.
McConnell’s duck and dodge of the issue was no accident. He and the party would cut its throat if it denounced its racists and racism, and really meant it. That was on grotesque display during the Obama white House years. The shouts, taunts, spitting, catcalls, Obama as Joker posters, n-word slurs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flag waving by some Tea Party activists, and the deafening silence from GOP leaders was an indispensable political necessity for the party.
The racial ploy that Trump has used to masterful effect to reignite the GOP’s traditional white rural, none college educated and low-income blue-collar workers he stole from the GOP’s ancient playbook. The GOP could not have been competitive during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and most importantly the 2016 campaign, without the bailout from these voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. They vote in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks and that’s always been the case before this last mid-term election.
There are millions of GOP backers in the South and Heartland, and the gaggle of right-wing webs, blogs, and talk radio jocks that have made it amply clear that they delight in Trump’s naked race baiting. They warn that if the GOP suddenly started pandering to minorities and gays it could kiss millions of their fervent supporter’s goodbye.
Trump and the GOP will need those votes and voters even more during the 2020 presidential election to stave off the expected big challenge from Democrats to take back the Senate and make Trump a one-term president. This is where King and the other King clones in the GOP come in. They’ll rap King on the knuckles, cry sanctimonious crocodile tears about his bigotry while loudly reminding GOP loyalists that the party is still their voice to hold the line against anything that remotely touches on race. King more than anyone else knows that and he’s honest about it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.