King of the Wingnuts

Aficionados of The Crazy have long long enjoyed the antics of Rep. Steve King of Iowa. He’s probably best known for assuming the mantle of Chief Congressional Nativist from his close friend Tom Tancredo when the Coloradan abandoned his House district in 2008. The other two pols with whom he has been especially close are Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint (the latter paid him the honor of including him as a panelist in his famous 2011 Labor Day Inquisition of the GOP presidential field).

For all his zealotry, King has a reputation in Iowa as a pretty savvy politician. He did not, for example, endorse the presidential bids of either Tancredo (in 2008) or Bachmann (in 2012), knowing that joining either suicide mission would have diminished him in the eyes of his constituents, who like all Iowans pay a lot of attention to presidential nominating contests.

But I gotta say, King seems to be losing it a bit lately, even by his standards. Last week he made news by publicly opposing a congressional effort to ban dog-fighting. To be clear, King isn’t putting himself a bit to the right of Michael Vick on this subject because of “constitutional conservative” objections to a violation of states’ rights; he earlier sponsored a farm bill amendment aimed at preempting state and local animal cruelty laws. He just doesn’t much care about critters.

King has also recently made it clear that his only problems with birtherism are strictly tactical:

We went down into the Library of Congress and we found a microfiche there of two newspapers in Hawaii each of which had published the birth of Barack Obama. It would have been awfully hard to fraudulently file the birth notice of Barack Obama being born in Hawaii and get that into our public libraries and that microfiche they keep of all the newspapers published. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other explanations on how they might’ve announced that by telegram from Kenya. The list goes on. But drilling into that now, even if we could get a definitive answer and even if it turned out that Barack Obama was conclusively not born in America, I don’t think we could get that case sold between now and November.

Yeah, tracking down fifty-year-old telegrams from Kenya takes some time, all right.

King’s always been like this, but he’s picked a bad year to exhibit his fully resplendent wingnuttery. He’s facing by far his toughest general election challenge, in a new (if pretty strongly Republican-leaning) district, and against former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, whose husband happens to be Secretary of Agriculture.

Vilsack, who’s probably as well-known in the district as King, and enjoys considerable personal popularity, has managed to achieve fundraising parity, despite King’s solid identity as a national Tea Party and Christian Right hero. The Cook Political Report rates the race as “Lean R,” and Iowa is not looking nearly as pro-Democratic as it was in 2008. Still, if anyone is capable of keeping this contest competitive, it’s King, who just can’t keep his more outlandish thoughts to himself.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.