Nothing says "civil discourse" like Steve King as your campaign co-chair

“There is no civil discourse left and it is really sad,” Governor Kim Reynolds said yesterday, adding, “We ought to be able to debate ideas because that’s how you get to consensus.” Reynolds lamented the “vitriol” that dominates the current “vicious” political climate.

Today the Reynolds/Gregg campaign announced that Representative Steve King will be a co-chair. A written statement described the governor as “humbled by the endorsement” from a “strong defender of freedom and our conservative values” who is “independent, principled, and is fighting the good fight in Washington, D.C.”

You can posture as a consensus-seeker, or you can brag about support from a walking highlight reel of mean-spirited and dehumanizing rhetoric. Not both.

Yesterday’s mini-lecture on civility stemmed from a reporter’s question about a memorable recent sound bite from Reynolds: “the liberals are unhinged and they are out for us.”

“Unhinged” liberals became an instant catch phrase on Iowa Democratic social media feeds. Within days, RAYGUN had rolled out a new t-shirt design for self-styled “TOTALLY UNHINGED” liberals promoting “accountability, a cleaner environment, equal & fair protections for all people.”

The governor backpedaled quite a bit at her October 31 press conference. “I’m the governor of everybody, so I want to make that clear. But I’m probably talking about a very small, minute population.”

She went on to tell a story about some people’s vile behavior on a private social media account where Reynolds had posted a picture of her grandchildren. The comments were “something to the effect that, you know, I hope they’re drinking the water and they have detrimental outcomes, and I’m being really, very nice in how I’m describing what some of those posts were.”

I signed up for this. You can come at me all you want. I’m tough. I know what this job entails. And I guess, in some sense, my family did, too, but not to that extent. This is a six-year-old little boy and his brother, playing soccer on a football field and to me, that’s unhinged. That’s over-the-top and they don’t deserve it. That’s just one small example of what I’m talking about.

I condemn anyone attacking anyone’s children in any venue, in-person or online. But Reynolds didn’t ask her Republican audience for help in fending off nasty social media trolls. Consider the context from that speech at her October 21 campaign fundraiser.

“As we all know as we travel the state, the liberals are unhinged and they are out for us and we need to double down and do all we can and if you keep fighting, I’ll keep fighting,” Reynolds said. “Let’s keep this united team together because, my gosh, we want to build on the successes that we’ve seen this last legislative session and we want to keep Iowa moving forward. We don’t want them to come in and reverse the good work that we’ve done, so it’s challenge. I’m in if you’re in.”

Reynolds was obviously referring to Iowans who showed up in large numbers earlier this year for protests at the capitol and weekend legislative forums, and are now mobilizing for next year’s election battles.

O.Kay Henderson reported more of the governor’s comments to reporters yesterday.

“There is no civil discourse left and it is really sad,” Reynolds said. “We ought to be able to talk about ideas. We ought to be able to debate ideas because that’s how you get to consensus and that’s how we move this country forward and that’s how we move this state forward. And we do a better job of it in Iowa. We do, but it is just so vitriol and vicious right now. I hope we can get back to having a discussion.”

Even yesterday, Reynolds wasn’t on solid ground here. You know what was “vicious”? The way the governor and her surrogates trashed Attorney General Tom Miller, falsely accusing him of a sudden and partisan reversal of his views on her authority to name a lieutenant governor.

As for wanting “to debate ideas,” Reynolds failed to engage with the substance of health care bills pending in Congress this summer. Other Republican governors closely examined the potential impact on their constituents and lobbied senators accordingly.

Still, I’d welcome a sign the governor is open to real discussion outside her echo chamber, especially her staff responded more consistently to my many policy-related inquiries. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today, right after the governor pined for more “civil discourse,” her campaign announced King would join U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, Representative Rod Blum, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as co-chairs. Key passages from the press release:

Governor Reynolds was humbled by the endorsement saying, “Congressman Steve King is a strong defender of freedom and our conservative values. He’s independent, principled, and is fighting the good fight in Washington, D.C. You never have to question where he stands. I look forward to him joining us in our effort to build a better Iowa.”

Lt. Governor [sic] Gregg said, “Congressman King is a true representative for his constituents and he shares our deep ties to Iowa. He’s a friend, a fellow conservative, and a fighter in Washington. I am thankful for his generous support of our campaign, and I look forward to campaigning with him across Western Iowa.”

In his endorsement, King stressed the broad support for the team, saying, “The Governor and Lt. Governor’s [sic] vision for building a better Iowa will result in more jobs, less debt, and more opportunity for all our state’s citizens. Governor Kim Reynolds and Lt. Governor [sic] Gregg are best positioned to build a better Iowa and lead the Iowa Republican team to victory in 2018. I am confident in their ability to build a strong grassroots campaign to help all Republican candidates be victorious next November, in every corner of the state, up and down the ballot.”

Reynolds and King have supported each other’s careers before. When Terry Branstad selected a mostly-unknown first-term state senator as his running mate in 2010, many social conservatives tried to get unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats on the ticket instead. King formally nominated Reynolds at the state GOP convention and vouched for the work she had done for “pro-life and pro-family candidates,” including himself. Even so, the delegate vote was surprisingly close: 749 for Reynolds to be the lieutenant governor candidate, 579 for Vander Plaats.

Last year, Reynolds was among the many Iowa Republican heavyweights who endorsed King, then facing a primary challenge in the fourth Congressional district from State Senator Rick Bertrand. Reynolds told the Sioux City Journal‘s Bret Hayworth that King “has done a good job” and “has been an effective advocate for his district and for Iowans.”

Seeing the governor praise King’s candor today (“You never have to question where he stands”) reminded me of the radio commercial her mentor cut for King’s 2012 re-election bid. In that spot, then Governor Branstad described Iowa’s most controversial member of Congress as “one of my favorite people,” a “unique and colorful public servant.” “Outspoken? You bet, and I like that,” Branstad went on to say. “We know where Steve King stands.”

We certainly do. From characterizing large numbers of DREAMers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes,” to saying white people have contributed more to civilization than other “sub-groups,” to praising a racist European for recognizing “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” to proposing the use of food stamp money to fund a wall along the Mexican border, King has made his worldview plain.

Reynolds could show she’s the “governor of everybody” by condemning King’s divisive, habitual race-baiting. Instead, she calls him “principled.” Only a few weeks ago, she tried to score political points and raise campaign funds by depicting African American NFL players who kneel during the national anthem as “so disrespectful” to veterans. (The protests are about institutional racism and police brutality, not the U.S. military. An NFL player who was a Green Beret suggested kneeling rather than sitting as a way “to show respect” while making that statement.)

Giving King a prominent role in the campaign makes sense as Reynolds shores up her right flank ahead of the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is running as a champion of “conservative solutions” like lower taxes and less borrowing to cover state expenses. But Corbett isn’t a favorite on the social conservative wing, whereas King is a superstar.

The Reynolds campaign previously announced support from 21 “conservative leaders,” including longtime Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, former Congressional candidate Robert Cramer (a close ally of Vander Plaats), former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Iowa Right to Life executive director Jennifer Bowen, and Brenna Bird, who as Branstad’s legal counsel pushed for a telemedicine abortion ban later ruled unconstitutional.

All of the above may be smart political strategy for Reynolds. But it doesn’t get much more phony than saying you’re for “consensus,” not “vitriol,” right before you roll out an endorsement from a guy whose offensive comments regularly make national news.

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