WASHINGTON - Republicans are shocked, (BEG ITAL)shocked(END ITAL), to learn that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is a dyed-in-the-wool racist. Also that snow is cold, the ocean is wet and the sky is often blue.
The clamor of GOP voices denouncing King's latest racist eruption is more amusing than inspiring. Where have his Republican colleagues been all these years? Surely the "party of Lincoln" is aware that race has been the most divisive issue in our national history. Surely Republicans were aware of King's toxic views, which he makes no attempt to hide. Why such an uproar now?
Perhaps King's newly outraged critics were waiting for him to finally spell it out in language that even the "party of Trump" cannot ignore. Which he did.
In a New York Times profile last week, King expounded on his hardline anti-immigrant views, which are the only thing that has distinguished him, or undistinguished him, in an otherwise mediocre congressional career. He boasted of having once told President Trump that "I market-tested your immigration policy for 14 years, and that ought to be worth something."
In what might have been an unguarded moment, King told the Times: "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
We have seen, in subsequent days, that the open embrace of white supremacy is a bridge too far for many Republicans. That's what they say, at least. I'll believe them when they make clear -- with actions, not just words -- that racists like King are unwelcome in the party's ranks.
After the Times piece was published, King quickly issued a statement seeking to distance himself from white nationalism and white supremacy, claiming to "reject those labels and the evil ideology they define." But then he went on to defend that very ideology in the euphemistic language -- word salad about nationalism and Western "values" -- that white supremacists use in polite company.
King claims his crusade is about keeping out the wrong kind of values. But his rhetoric and his associations make clear that his real aim is keeping out the "wrong" kind of people -- Latinos, Muslims, anyone who doesn't fit into his warped, ahistorical, racist vision of the nation's heritage.
Several years ago, referring to the undocumented "Dreamers" brought here as minors, King had this to say: "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another hundred out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." That's what King thinks of Hispanic immigration. He proposed a border wall before Trump did.
As the Times noted in its profile, King has supported political figures abroad who have anti-Semitic leanings and neo-Nazi ties. In his response statement, King said he condemns anyone who supports the ideology that led to the Holocaust. So that's something. In years past, however, he did display a Confederate flag in his office -- an odd and telling choice of decor for a man born and raised in Iowa, where the trees are not draped with Spanish moss and the atmosphere is not suffused with "Lost Cause" nostalgia.
Here is part of what King said last year to a right-wing Austrian website: "When I made a statement on Twitter saying, 'We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies,' it seemed to be more irritating to the left than anything I have ever said. First of all, the total fertility rate in Europe is below replacement rate. When that happens, you are a dying civilization. ... If we continue to abort our babies and import a replacement for them in the form of young violent men, we are supplanting our culture, our civilization." The idea of "replacement" is a cornerstone of white supremacist ideology.
Following the Times profile, we've heard stirring denunciations from outraged and embarrassed Republicans. On "Meet the Press," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., was righteously eloquent on the subject. In a Washington Post op-ed, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., challenged his colleagues: "Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism -- it is because of our silence when things like this are said." On "Face the Nation," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., promised that "action will be taken" against King; there were reports he may be removed from some House committees.
Yeah, sure, whatever. You don't want to be called racists, Republicans? Then stop letting bigots like King and Trump define the party's policies. I'll believe stirring GOP words about diversity when they are backed up by votes.
Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.