Political Animal


October 31, 2012 5:02 PM Fruits of Polarization

By Ed Kilgore

Charles Pierce looks at the latest outrageous utterance by U.S. Rep. Steve King, and just can’t take it any more:

Really, Iowans, if you do nothing else, please force the Emperor of All Morons to absent himself from the national scene. Because no one should be allowed to say something this stupid…and still lead in the polls. I mean, Jesus, Iowans, have some pride.

It’s not “Iowans” who will determine King’s fate, of course: it’s whoever shows up to vote in the 4th congressional district of Iowa, anchored in the intensely conservative (and Christian Right-dominated) region of northwest Iowa. The district was carried by McCain in 2008, and carried heavily by George W. Bush in 2004. Registered Republicans currently outnumber registered Democrats by a margin of 51,000. And as you might have heard, partisan polarization has reduced crossover voting and/or split ballots rather dramatically. As you can read at the fine Iowa-based blog Bleeding Heartland, King has had active help from Gov. Terry Branstad, has appeared jointly with Mitt Romney, and had Chris Christie come in to do a fundraiser for him. And precisely because he is, well, a crazy person, he has a national fundraising base, just like his very close friend Michele Bachmann.

So the surprising thing isn’t that Steve King is ahead according to recent polls: it’s that he’s in a tough, close race with Christie Vilsack (wife of former governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and a political force in her own right), who’s managed to put together her own national fundraising base and stay competitive with the incumbent despite early expectations that she had no chance. To win, she will have to win an overwhelming margin among the district’s independents (many of whom, of course, are functionally Republicans), and in that respect running against a crazy person is helpful. But the U.S. House of Representatives harbors a lot of crazy people for the unfortunate reason that relatively few voters (particularly in a national battleground state like Iowa) focus on House races (and you can be sure that King’s ads are designed to make him look like a reasonable fellow to low-information voters), and are willing to split tickets. Without a national wave, it’s tough to generate a lot of party turnover in House races.

Maybe King will lose on November 6, and maybe he will even be joined in retirement by Bachmann. But at a time when so very much hangs in the balance politically, unless you are actually an Iowan or a Minnesotan, you may need to pay extra attention—along with me and Charles Pierce—to notice what happens at the district level in the House.

UPDATE: As commenter KH notes, Steve King does indeed currently represent the 5th district of Iowa. But redistricting eliminated the 5th, and King chose to run in the 4th, currently represented by Republican Tom Latham, who chose to run in the 3d, currently represented by Democrat Leonard Boswell. Redistricting musical chairs at their finest!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • KH on October 31, 2012 5:20 PM:

    King represents the 5th congressional district, not the 4th. It includes the entire west of the state, not just its northwest.

  • c u n d gulag on October 31, 2012 5:41 PM:

    I love Mr. Pierce, and read him daily, but he's wrong on this one.

    The reason King is the 'Emperor of All Morons,' that in that land of morons, King is considered the smartest moron, is held in the highest regard, and looked up to.

  • bigtuna on October 31, 2012 5:50 PM:

    If we are to use his logic [and I know, logic and King are not often used in the same sentence] we should make sure that all farmers getting some sort of farm support aren't using the money to buy fancy new pickups and nice tractors - lets make sure they are buying old used crap

  • elisabeth on October 31, 2012 5:54 PM:

    Iowa lost a congressional district due to the last census (the young are still moving away and the old are still dying off, and the population declined), so King is running in a new district that has some more democratic than the old district. BUT despite the fact that King has even agreed to a number of debates, my guess is the there are enough older Republican voters who will continue to vote for King and overcome the new more Democratic voters in the new district.

  • Doug on October 31, 2012 7:12 PM:

    My guess is that it's the "independents", aka sane Republicans, that will determine whether or not King is returned.
    Obviously I could be mistaken, but it looks to me that there could be as many as a third of GOP voters who AREN'T supportive of the Tealiban (the difference between the percentages for the "base" and general GOP supporters). The question is: Will they STILL vote Republican and for someone such as King, split their ballots or, perhaps, not vote at all?
    We couldn't be so lucky as to have them cast "protest" votes for President Obama...

  • JR on October 31, 2012 7:26 PM:

    Amen, Brother Benen!

    I'd add that, through Tuesday, the most important reason to pay attention is that, should Romney win, it's clowns like King that put the lie to David Brooks' dream of a moderate Mitt. King has more clout than many, especially otherwise sane conservatives, will admit. Should Cantor oust Boehner, bipartisanship will be about as likely as Benedict making a hajj to Mecca.

  • R on October 31, 2012 8:46 PM:

    @Doug -- How many "sane Republicans" are left? I ask this in all seriousness. Is there anyone telling King and Bachmann and dozens of others that they're dragging down what used to be a respectable party? If so, they're way too discreet about it. Not that I agreed with Republicans very often, but there were a few were able to articulate a vision of smaller government consistent with their views on individual freedom (e.g., reproductive rights, freedom of religion) without bigotry, religiosity, or fear of science. I even voted for a couple long ago, figuring that they might influence the GOP at large. Never again. Remember when Jim Jeffords said that he hadn't left the Republican Party -- the party had left him? A great day for Democrats, but a sad day for this democracy. Now we're reduced to this:

  • doc on November 01, 2012 8:13 AM:

    Let's vote on some specifics.

    1. Cut all farm subsidies and ethanol subsidies to pay for disater relief.
    2. Do it again.
    3. Zero them out.

    What an Un-American. Anyone in "the heartland" that says leave 20% of American in the dark and flooded is also Un-American.

  • doc on November 01, 2012 8:18 AM:

    Iowa gets $1.26 for every dollar it pays in taxes. Give it back--so we can send it to the NE and help out our citizens!! What has Iowa done for the USA lately other than take?

  • desmoinesdem on November 01, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Thanks for the shout-out. The IA-04 race appears to be closer than I expected it to be when Christie Vilsack announced her challenge to King.

    King's closing ads are strong--an update is in progress and will be posted at Bleeding Heartland on Monday.

  • BillyBobSchranzburg on November 01, 2012 10:23 PM:

    The problem with all this emotional angst directed towards King is...he's right. To quote the NY Times, July 27, 2006--"Among the many superlatives associated with Hurricane Katrina can now be added this one: it produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion."

    Read for yourselves--http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/27/washington/27katrina.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  • trex on November 01, 2012 10:52 PM:


    No, King is not right. The article you linked cited government waste due to poor planning and the utter bureaucratic incompetence of the Bush administration, and complex scams that took advantage of that. You'll also recall in the same vein that they basically just "lost" $8 billion in cash in Iraq in one year alone, not to mention untold tens of billions gifted to their private contractor buddies in no-bid arrangements.

    King, however, is insinuating that actual victims will misuse legitimate funds for luxuries because they lack impulse control. Surprised the mask didn't slip further and he didn't say "boomboxes" instead of "gucci purses, " but I get that he wanted to emphasize how over generous the (modest) government relief funds are for those who've just lost their homes and possessions.

    You, and he, are egregious fucks with vestigial consciences, who are more concerned with petty ideology than human suffering. Pricks of a feather, I guess.

  • trex on November 01, 2012 11:46 PM:

    Not Gucci bags...body bags.

  • BillyBobSchranzburg on November 02, 2012 11:01 PM:

    Well, I must say, trex, that your reasoned and measured response has really made me rethink my interpretation. When faced with the pure weight of intellect and sober translation of Mr. King's 'actual' meaning exhibited in your comment, I am humbled into submission. You are a good and decent human being. I am shamed that I am not able to read the apparent racism so artfully hidden by the likes of King.

  • trex on November 02, 2012 11:57 PM:

    I know, reading comprehension is hard. It's not surprising in the least that you have none.

    And there is nothing "artful" about King's racism. He is a birther and he is on the record as being against "diversity" as un-American, among other very ignorant positions - including voting against ANY relief for Katrina victims...while saying he will vote for relief for victims of Sandy. Huh, that's weird.

    King's obvious racism and stupidity aside, he was very clearly saying that he didn't want legitimate victims to spend their relief checks on frivolities. The article you linked to, however, was about government waste by the administration that you helped put in office and fraudulent moneymaking schemes. One of those things is not like the other.

    So, you were wrong. Again. As usual. If you'd like to continue this conversation and flesh out in even more detail about how you were wrong on this or other issues I'm game.

    And by way of explanation for my measured and sober response: you are a tireless, incorrigible fuckwit. No amount of being wrong time and time again in either your prognostications or politics has been a sufficient shock to your peabrain to get you to rethink your positions as expressed on this blog or others where you troll. You're a petulant, whiny bitch with a shitty track record who ironically shows up here now and then to tell us how stupid WE are. I'm just using a healthy dose of public humiliation to lay bare your thumb-sucking pomposity in hopes that it will shake you out of your apparent hypoxia and give you a chance at getting a little more oxygen to those brain cells.

    You're welcome.

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