What’s the Difference Between Steve King and Donald Trump?

The congressman from Iowa has drawn rebukes from Republicans for his statements about white supremacy and white nationalism, but he shares many of his views with the president.

Donald Trump, senator Joni Ernst, and representative Steve King
Stephen Maturen / Getty

The Republican Party is doing a little soul-searching. Last week, Representative Steve King of Iowa drew harsh rebukes from some members of his party for his defenses of white nationalism and white supremacy.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” King told The New York Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

This was the most explicit expression of something that has been obvious for some time: King not only believes white people are superior to others, but supports the use of state power to preserve what he sees as white political and cultural power in the West.

As Christopher Mathias has ably documented, King’s remarks are the latest entry in a long list of similar statements, such as his declaration that “we can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies,” that “cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end,” and that “we need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed.” He has called illegal immigration a “slow-motion holocaust,” language that echoes the neo-Nazi doctrine that non-white immigration is a form of “white genocide.” Last year he endorsed a candidate for mayor of Toronto who has a history of touting white-nationalist and anti-Semitic ideas.

It was only after King’s latest remarks that Republicans condemned him with any kind of force. King drew a rebuke from Iowa’s two Republican senators, House Republicans have said they may take action against the congressman, and other high-profile Republican legislators, such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, have condemned his remarks. The conservative intellectual Henry Olsen warned that the “seeds of bigotry” could take root in the Republican Party, and National Review called for King to be expelled from Congress, declaring that “one of the glories of American history is how we finally shed our shameful racist past.”

Hardly. While it is heartening to see that King’s antics have finally drawn a unified response of condemnation from the right, the reactions seem to miss the obvious point that there is little daylight between Steve King and the president of the United States, Donald Trump. (Neither National Review’s editorial nor Scott’s op-ed even mentions the president’s name.)

But don’t take my word for it. In 2014, as Trump was mulling a run for president, he made an appearance in Iowa with King, calling him a “special guy, a smart person, with really the right views on almost everything,” and noting that their views on the issues were so similar that “we don’t even have to compare notes.”

Little has changed. The president has defended white nationalists; sought to exploit the census to dilute the political power of minority voters; described immigration as an infestation, warning that it was “changing the culture of Europe”; derided black and Latino immigrants as coming from “shithole countries,” while expressing a preference for immigrants from places like “Norway”; and generally portrayed nonwhite immigrants as little more than rapists, drug dealers, and murderers at every opportunity.

Unlike King, however, the president has the authority, by himself, to make his views into policy. From his travel ban to his child-separation policy to his revocation of protections for immigrants brought here as children, he has pursued discriminatory policies with a commitment he has shown for few other campaign promises. Even now, the federal government remains shut down, its workforce denied payment for their labor, all in pursuit of the construction of a taxpayer-funded symbolic monument of disapproval toward immigrants of Latin American descent.

As if to remind the world of his similarity to King, on Sunday night, Trump tweeted a column from Pat Buchanan arguing that the president should seize executive power and build the wall without approval from Congress, warning that unless he does so, “the United States, as we have known it, is going to cease to exist.” Such a barrier is made necessary, Buchanan argues, because of the increasing diversity of the United States, which he portrays in apocalyptic terms. “The more multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual America becomes—the less it looks like Ronald Reagan’s America—the more dependably Democratic it will become,” he argues in the same column. “The Democratic Party is hostile to white men, because the smaller the share of the U.S. population that white men become, the sooner that Democrats inherit the national estate.”

This genetic determinism—that the sovereignty of America’s white people is threatened by the presence of nonwhite people—is the logic of white nationalism. It is an argument for treating people as hostile invaders because of the color of their skin. There is nothing preventing Republicans from competing with Democrats for the votes of religious and ethnic minorities, except for this hostility toward them.

Tempting as it might be for Trump supporters to argue that the president doesn’t endorse such sentiments, Trump is fully conscious of Buchanan’s views. After the Klan leader David Duke’s run for Senate in 1990, Trump said that Buchanan “has many of the same theories, except it’s in a better package.” Years later, Trump said of Buchanan, “He’s a Hitler lover. I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays. It’s just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy … I just can’t imagine that anybody can take him seriously.”

The president has obviously changed his mind about whether Buchanan’s views are morally objectionable. But no one could argue that he is unaware of what they are.

It’s important that Republicans are taking racism more seriously. But that means not only rejecting backbencher congressmen like King. It means recognizing that King believes little that the man in the White House does not also believe. If the rejection of King is more than political opportunism, more than an attempt to portray the party as rejecting ideas that the president they support has embraced, then the Republican Party and the conservative movement will have to do more than censure King. They will have to reject Trumpism, and all it represents.