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How Damaging Are Rep. King's Comments To The GOP?


I want to bring in another voice here. It's conservative writer Noah Rothman of Commentary magazine. He's in our studios in New York. Hi, Noah.


GREENE: Let me first ask you about this shutdown. Are Republicans starting to break ranks, potentially, with the president to put more pressure on him to do something to open the government?

ROTHMAN: They are. But as Mara said, there's just a handful of them - not enough to create a critical mass for the president to abandon his strategy. And now we have voices like Lindsey Graham saying that it's time to declare a national emergency. So we are getting close to the breaking point. Democrats are waiting for the pain of the shutdown to increase pressure on Republicans, and Republicans are feeling that pressure and are going to start wanting to pull the rip cord. So we will see some movement pretty soon, I think.

GREENE: Well, let me go to another topic. There was a recent interview in The New York Times with the Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa. He was questioning why language like white supremacy and white nationalism - why language like that is considered offensive. Is that damaging to the party to hear that from a Republican congressman?

ROTHMAN: Yeah. I think so, and you've seen figures say as much. You saw people like Karl Rove over the weekend say that this is damaging to conservatism, and he needs to be abandoned as soon as possible. The conservative outlet National Review echoed those sentiments. And I think they're perfectly accurate. When the congressman says, I want an education on why these are offensive terms, he's currently getting one. It's certainly not the first time he's said something similarly offensive, racially tinged and aggravating. But it is - the reaction has been far greater than in past statements. There's no ambiguity here. There's no plausible deniability. Republicans are now faced with an individual who is saying, I align myself essentially with white nationalism, white supremacy; and what are you going to do about it? And now we're starting to hear what they intend to do about it.

GREENE: I mean, the operative word - starting to hear. Why didn't Republicans come out and speak this forcefully against King when he has said things like this in the past?

ROTHMAN: Well, I don't think he said anything as overt as this. Those who are...

GREENE: Well, he's retweeted, I mean, tweets from people who are - identify themselves as neo-Nazis. I mean, it's certainly been offensive stuff.

ROTHMAN: Right, yeah. Absolutely. And I'm in this space, and I had to Google these people to know who they were and what they were about. If you're charitably inclined, you can say that this is an individual who is just as concerned with the preservation of culture and what have you. Again, very charitable, not to which I'm inclined, but you can say that for somebody, perhaps, to allow them plausible deniability. There's no plausible deniability here. This is extremely overt and clear. And you have, as a result, seen Republicans come out against it because white nationalism, white supremacy is so anathema to any political coalition that it cannot be supported.

GREENE: Can I ask you - I mean, we were talking about here what Bob Dole, the Republican nominee for president, had to do in 1996 in his acceptance speech. He had to talk about the Republican Party being broad and inclusive, representing many streams of opinion. But he said if there's anyone who's mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, let me remind you; tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln. Why does the Republican Party keep facing these moments?

ROTHMAN: Well, any coalition has members in it that are disreputable and distasteful. And no political coalition with an interest in its own self-preservation will expel those members, especially if they command a constituency like...

GREENE: But you don't hear Democrats having to say these things like Dole did and like McCarthy is today, talking about going to - to have to meet King. Why is - why are Republicans facing this?

ROTHMAN: Yeah, and that's truly - and I agree. And that's truly unfortunate because they do have their own problems. Misandry is a feature of the Democratic coalition. You had two members, representatives Omar and Tlaib, with their arm around an individual, Linda Sarsour, who was profiled in The New York Times at the center of an anti-Semitism scandal not two weeks ago. But we are not talking about that, and that's truly unfortunate. We should be.

GREENE: Are you worried about the party and how it handles the question of race?

ROTHMAN: I am. I absolutely am. And I have a book coming out where I recommend that the Republican Party face square on the white nationalist members of its coalition and attack their ideas. Again, individuals are not going to be expelled from a coalition because a coalition needs individuals and people with sources of power. But ideas can be stigmatized and marginalized, and that's one that desperately needs it.

GREENE: Noah Rothman, thanks so much for being here. We always appreciate it.

ROTHMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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