Iowa congressman criticized for racially charged comments

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2014, file photo, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa speaks in Des Moines. King in a tweet Sunday, March 12, 2017, paid tribute to Geert Wilders, a veteran member of the Dutch Parliament who founded the Party of Freedom. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Rep. Steve King's rampant racism is an opportunity for Iowa Republicans and the party at large. Exorcise the nationalist bent before it's too late.

The House should make an example of King, and Iowa GOP should be actively seeking a candidate to oust him in next year's primary. 

King's Sunday tweet, in support of a right-wing Dutch nationalist, Geert Wilders, laid bare that which has infected the party of Lincoln for far too long.

"Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," King tweeted, a direct shot at Muslim refugees and their children. 

King has made a career out of nibbling the edges of white supremacy. Such inflammatory speech is what gets him on national television talk shows. He's not serving Iowa's 4th Congressional District. And thanks to his lust for attention, King serves as a self-appointed representative for Iowa. It's through his actions that the nation sees us. 

Many prominent Republicans rightly decried King's initial statement. They no doubt fumed as he went on CNN and doubled-down. 

“First of all, I do not agree with Congressman King's statement. We are a nation of immigrants, and diversity is the strength of any nation and any community,” Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. 

Kaufmann took an even harder swing at former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who was, unsurprisingly, overjoyed by King's declaration.

“Regarding David Duke, his words and sentiments are absolute garbage. He is not welcome in our wonderful state,” Kaufmann said. 

Gov. Terry Branstad and governor-in-waiting Kim Reynolds correctly smacked King for his outright bigotry.

Strong words are welcome. But action is necessary. Unchecked, this strain of right-wing nationalism will consume the party. It's already threatening political orders throughout the West, the very civilization that King claims he wants to save. Austria, France, Greece and the U.K. are all combating racially fueled rightist political insurgencies. It's a base reaction to the greatest refugee crises in 75 years, a catastrophe that, ironically, was orchestrated by the West's own foreign policy. It's been fostered by years of politicians stoking a persecution complex among those who, by every objective measure, enjoy a disproportionate amount of society's benefits.  

Like so many others, King is obviously emboldened by the rise of President Donald Trump. He's dropped the thin veil that had cloaked his prejudice. Trump might not like to admit it, but the go-to dog whistles that propelled his campaign spoke directly to the hard right's notion of racial purity and a civilization under siege from the others. That's why Duke and his ilk are suddenly relevant again. It's why Jews are suddenly under threat. It's why angry white men are walking into the local bar, yelling, "Get out of my country," and attacking fellow citizens for no other reason than the color of their skin. 

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This is not the rhetoric of your father's GOP, the party of reason and Reagan. It is, however, the same disgusting drivel that was thrown at Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants a century ago. It's fear and weakness masquerading as strength. 

The GOP, neither in Iowa nor the U.S. at large, should stand for this. King's words are a direct challenge to its ideals. This is, in a very real sense, a tipping point for a party that dominates most of the country. The moral imperative is real. And the economic one — the GOP's stated sacred cow — is undeniable. These "babies" work in our businesses, schools, hospitals and universities. They're no less American than anyone else. 

The verbal spankings from Kaufmann, Branstad and Reynolds were apt. But their party's actions will determine the real value of their words. 

King should be censured in the House. His bigotry is protected speech. But the First Amendment does not shield him from professional consequences. And next year, King should face a strong opponent in the GOP primary, one with full backing of the state party.

King's breed of hate-filled nationalism is a threat to the GOP. But it's also an opportunity to rebuke such gutlessness in the strongest possible terms. 

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Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.