Donald Trump's remarks about Mexican immigrants during his presidential announcement has led to him losing many of his business deals and the support of some Republicans. But Iowa Rep. Steve King, a conservative influencer in the early caucus state, is standing behind Trump and said his remarks are catching fire.
"He's riding a good wave and right now if the caucus were held today, he'd probably come out on top," King told National Journal.
King has emerged as an influential figure in the Republican Party who has not shied away from making his own controversial statements about immigration, infamously mixing it up with immigration activists and saying, "for everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
King said he was happy that Trump has brought immigration into focus for the primary.
"The design was not to talk about immigration, so perhaps they could team up and pass something like the Gang of 8's bill," King said, referring to the immigration-reform bill proposed in 2013 by four Democratic senators and four Republican senators, including presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio.
Earlier this month, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Trump tied with Ben Carson for second in Iowa, behind only Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. King said part of the reason for this is that many who oppose immigration reform have been marginalized or called xenophobic, racist, or nativist.
"They know what's right," he said of many Iowa voters. "What's right is not to grant amnesty to reward people for breaking the law."
The respect between Trump and King appears to be mutual. In 2012, Trump donated $1,000 to King and Trump gave another $3,000 in 2014, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics website followthemoney.org.
"I recall receiving a check from Donald Trump without having made the ask," King said.
King's attitude differs from many other Republicans who have received money from Trump. Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller donated money that was given to him by Trump in 2012 to charity.
"He does not agree with or condone the viewpoints expressed by Donald Trump with regard to immigration," said Heller spokesman Neal Patel in a statement.
In 1997, Trump cohosted a fundraiser for Jeb Bush with Steve Forbes, though Bush's campaign team pointed to statements on the campaign trail denouncing Trump.
"I don't agree with him," Bush said during a June 27 campaign event. "It's pretty simple; maybe we'll have a chance to have an honest discussion about it on stage."
Trump also donated $23,500 to then-New York Gov. George Pataki in 1998 and $20,000 in 2002, according to followthemoney.org. Pataki, who also is running for president, has since challenged Trump to a debate on immigration.
Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said, "we just hope he has the guts to go mano-a-mano with Gov. Pataki on immigration policy."
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, whom Trump also donated to and is also running for president, said, "I'm going to keep the money and condemn him."
King says Trump is being attacked for telling the truth.
"I'm happy to step on the stage with him and defend anything that he said at this point with regard to immigration," King said.
Trump's immigration message, and his persistent touting of it, has been a headache for Republican Party leadership over the past several weeks. But as King shows, there's support for Trump where it counts.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the results of a recent Quinnipiac Poll. Scott Walker led the poll.
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Eric Garcia is a staff correspondent for National Journal. He previously was a transparency reporter for MarketWatch, where he reported on financial regulation issues. His work has also appeared in the Southern Political Report, Salon, the American Prospect and the New Republic. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and covered politics for its campus paper, the Daily Tar Heel.