If there was any doubt that Republicans were jumping off the Trump train, it ended Thursday on the sun-drenched Iowa State Fairgrounds when conservative Rep. Steve King began looking past the November election and acknowledging that he could work with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton if she is elected the next president.
“If it’s Hillary, we don’t agree on very much, so you’ll probably see me become a vocal member of Congress if you should elect me back to Washington after November,” he said during a Des Moines Register Political Soapbox speech. “But I also know that I’ve sat across the table with Hillary Clinton, eye-to-eye, and when you’re working outside of staff and outside the press, she is somebody I can work with.”
King, a politically incendiary Iowa Tea Party Republican, is one of the most conservative members of Congress. He actually rivals Trump in his disdain for illegal immigrants and any whiff of immigration reform that goes beyond building a wall and deporting millions of illegal immigrants from this country.
It was King who infamously quipped in 2013 that for every child of illegal immigrants “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 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.”
Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist, described King’s comments as “truly astonishing” in light of his extreme conservative views and long-standing contempt for Clinton. “If any member of Congress is a solid Trump guy, it’s him,” Baker said today. “For him to say that is virtually like running up the white flag.”
The seven-term Republican lawmaker endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Iowa GOP caucuses, and in the process incurred the wrath of Iowa’s powerful gasohol industry because of Cruz’s opposition to federal gasohol subsidies.
King has long denounced Clinton as a “liar” who misled the public and Congress on her mishandling of emails while she was secretary of state and her role in the run up to and aftermath of the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans. He also strongly opposes her call for creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
But that was all before the Trump campaign began to implode this summer in the wake of the New York billionaire’s attack on the family of a fallen military hero, his seeming approval of Russia hacking the Democratic party email and, most recently, his thinly veiled suggestion that Second Amendment gun rights advocates somehow stop Clinton from being elected President to prevent her from appointing liberals to the Supreme Court. Clinton emerged from the Democratic National Convention in late July with a sizable nine to 10 percentage point bump over Trump in the national polls.
Now dozens of Republican lawmakers, policy experts and media pundits have broken with Trump and signaled they would support a third party candidate or maybe even Clinton. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Wednesday became the seventh Republican senator to formally break with Trump. And while King devoted most of his speech today to praising Trump and his GOP vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, King raised a lot of eyebrows with his praise of Clinton as someone he could work with.
King’s softening of his anti-Clinton rhetoric comes as a new Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll out this week shows Clinton leading Trump in Iowa by four percentage points, 41 percent to 37 percent.