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Renée Graham

The GOP rejects Steve King — not racism

Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; AP
Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; APSergey Nivens - stock.adobe.com

Steve King isn’t a glitch in the GOP machine. The Republican party has long tolerated and embraced his racism.

So let’s not give the GOP too much credit for finally punishing the Iowa congressman, best known for making racist comments, supporting neo-Nazis, and hating immigrants.

GOP congressional leader Kevin McCarthy announced Monday that King would be stripped of all committee assignments for the duration of his current two-year term. During a recent New York Times interview, King questioned why terms like “white nationalist, white supremacist” were considered offensive.

Because, of course he did.

“These are not the first time we have heard these comments,” McCarthy told reporters. “That is not the party of Lincoln, and it is definitely not America. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”


McCarthy gets this much right — it’s not the first time King has made disgusting comments about people of color, or defended racists. But he’s underselling Republican complicity. This is what the GOP has cultivated for the past 50 years, as the party of Lincoln metastasized into white supremacy and xenophobia, which begat King.

And Donald Trump.

So why now? At the very least, King’s mess is a convenient distraction for a party bearing the brunt of the blame for Trump’s shutdown. Plus, it allows the GOP to seem capable of making sound decisions for the country, and they get to claim that there’s “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress, or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind.”

Spoiler alert: There is.

Since hypocrisy is a feature, not a bug, in the Republican Party, there’s no similar condemnation of a president whose bigotry guides nearly every decision he makes, at least those not manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.


While Senator Mitt Romney is calling for King’s resignation and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (remember him?) suggests that King “should find another line of work,” they’ve been silent as stones about voter suppression, which disenfranchised voters of color in 2018, and will likely do so again in 2020. That’s racism as old as a poll tax.

They’ve certainly said nothing about the president’s latest Twitter attack on Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. As a punch line, Trump evoked one of this nation’s darkest chapters — the 19th-century Wounded Knee massacre in which the US Cavalry slaughtered Sioux men, women, and children.

And Republicans remain mute as Trump parrots fake statistics about rampaging criminal immigrants, and makes strange asides about attacks on women delivered in such weirdly fetishitic detail that even Fox News couldn’t stomach it.

To no one’s surprise, Trump has declined comment on King, one of his earliest supporters, claiming he hasn’t followed the story.

Racism is as much a facet of Trump’s presidency as his promise for that border wall/barrier he so desperately needs to slake his base. They’ll have to settle for the performance art of Trump feigning strength and resolve, as 800,000 federal workers and their families scramble to pay bills during his ongoing partial government shutdown.

Republicans are just fine with racism, and will use it to whip up white fear to keep power in GOP hands.

With the walls now crumbling around him, King says he rejects white supremacy, but he’s less convincing than someone espousing the virtues of veganism while eating a platter of pulled pork. What King rejects is being reprimanded now for behavior he has engaged in his entire career with impunity.


In his statement, King says McCarthy’s decision “ignores the truth.” Here’s the real truth — marginalizing King is like isolating a mutant cell but leaving the rest of the tumor intact. Like Trump, King is a monster fed and unleashed by the GOP, and they can’t fully disavow what he represents without dismantling the racist machine that spawned him.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.