Gaffes a la King: Steve King throws a party for immigration activists and Democratic trackers

Steve King offers 2016 GOP candidates an opportunity to be embarrassed by being seen with him

Published January 23, 2015 8:10PM (EST)

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa                            (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It’s a lucky thing that Steve King is a real person who actually exists, as it saved Democratic and liberal activists the trouble of having to grow him in a lab. The Republican Party’s most prominent anti-immigrant bombthrower is putting on his first “Iowa Freedom Summit” this weekend, which is being billed as the unofficial start to the 2016 nominating contest. Would-be Republican presidential candidates will show up to pay their respects to King and get busy exploiting the anxieties Iowa’s white, rural conservatives feel over undocumented immigration.

Chris Christie will be there, as will Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, and (of course) Donald Trump. Most of those people stand zero chance of actually becoming president – they’re either too crazy, too laughably incompetent, or Donald Trump – so showing up at a rally thrown by a guy who drops casual references to “murderous illegal aliens” carries little actual political risk. But those whose 2016 hopes aren’t completely far-fetched – Christie, Walker, and (because I’m feeling generous) Perry – have plenty to worry about, given that King is basically throwing one big party for Democratic groups hunting for embarrassing gaffes and Hispanic activists looking to put Republicans in the hot seat.

King is a guy who loves confrontation, and he provokes public outrage as part of a deliberate strategy to derail progress on immigration reform. When he refers to undocumented immigrants as “deportables” or says the vast majority of immigrants are drug mules with overdeveloped leg muscles, he’s purposefully bringing heat down on himself because he knows it’ll also gin up conservative outrage over immigration. This strategy has been extremely effective – King has hijacked the GOP’s immigration policy and pushed the party so far right that they only legislation the GOP can move through the House are bills to undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

DACA, which offers temporary deportation protection to DREAM Act-eligible immigrants brought into the country as minors, has been extremely popular and the King-led movement to abolish it created a strong backlash from Hispanic activist groups. So it’s no surprise that pro-DACA activists are making plans to turn King’s Iowa Freedom Summit into a confrontation over immigrant rights:

As GOP presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa this weekend, immigrant rights advocates have a warning for them: Stay away from Rep. Steve King if you want to have a chance at winning Hispanic votes.

Eager to recharge the immigration issue that they believe helped doom 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, illegal immigrants who are here under President Obama’s deportation amnesty said they’ll dog the next batch of potential 2016 candidates demanding to know whether they’ll keep or cancel the amnesties that could apply to as many as 5 million migrants by the time Mr. Obama leaves office.

These activists have already demonstrated how much of headache they can be for Republicans with ambitions for higher office. Last August, a pair of them confronted Steve King for his opposition to immigration reform while Rand Paul sat a couple of feet away munching on a hamburger. When one of the activists identified herself as a DREAMer, Paul nearly choked on the burger and fled the scene as quickly as possible, spawning a week’s worth of mocking coverage. That same month, DREAMer activists in South Carolina got into a shouting match with Marco Rubio, who rebuked them for “doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States.” Both those confrontations came about because Steve King had successfully pushed the Republican leadership in the House to vote on legislation ending DACA.

By organizing this confab in Iowa, King has set the table for more of these confrontations. And you can be sure that the moment they happen, there’ll be someone nearby from American Bridge or the DNC capturing all of it on camera. The whole thing is a PR debacle in waiting, which makes you wonder why anyone who seriously believes they can be president would want to be caught anywhere near Steve King.

By Simon Maloy

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