If U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) is serious about pursuing the Republican nomination for president in 2016, then the GOP will have a real problem on its hands.
Congressman King’s interest in a White House bid was first reported on Wednesday night by Newsmax. The next day, the Long Island Republican elaborated on his plans in an interview with ABC News.
“I’m going to certainly give it thought. I’m going to see where it goes,” King explained. “My concern right now is I don’t see anyone at the national level speaking enough on, to me, what’s important – national security, homeland security, counterterrorism.”
“The big debate that Republicans seem to have in the Senate on foreign policy is whether or not, you know, the CIA was going to use a drone to kill an American in Starbucks,” he added, in a shot at Kentucky senator Rand Paul. “To me, we should be going beyond that and we should go back to being a party – whether it’s Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush – of having a strong national defense, and that should be, to me, an essential part of the presidential debate. And so far, that’s missing.”
Of course, if national defense has been missing from the presidential debate, it’s probably just because said debate won’t begin for another two years. But if King does insist on bringing the issue to the forefront of the Republican presidential primaries, then that’s very bad news for the GOP.
King’s positions on homeland security and foreign policy line up rather neatly with those of the George W. Bush administration (notably, former attorney general and noted torture advocate Michael Mukasey was the first Republican to go on record in support of King’s hypothetical candidacy). In other words, they are ridiculously unpopular. If voters were clamoring for a return to the Bush era, then Mitt Romney — whose diplomatic and national security teams were stacked with Bush administration veterans — presumably would not have been the first Republican presidential candidate in three decades to lose to his opponent on questions of foreign policy and national security (President Obama trounced Romney 56 to 44 percent among voters focused on the subject, according to exit polls.)
Making matters worse is King’s apparent inability to advocate for these positions without invoking startling racism. If the Republican plan to appear less hostile to minorities isn’t already completely dead by 2016, then a presidential campaign by a man who has declared that “we have too many mosques in this country,” and that “85 percent of American Muslim community leaders are an enemy living amongst us” — among many other racist broadsides against the Muslim community — would certainly deliver the coup de grâce.
Furthermore, a King candidacy would be sure to bring out the worst in his fellow candidates. With a lifetime 75 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, King would draw attacks from the right throughout the primaries; it’s not hard to imagine a fierce argument over King’s support for closing the gun show loophole, for example, becoming the 2016 version of “let him die!”
And none of these issues with a potential King candidacy even touch his decades-long support for a violent terrorist organization.
Happily for Republicans, King is likely just floating a presidential bid as a way to raise both his own profile and money for his congressional campaigns. But if he actually does enter the 2016 race, it would result in another huge blow to the Republican Party’s already tattered brand.