At an event in Iowa on Monday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were confronted by two dreamers -- people brought to the U.S. illegally as children who, under an executive order from President Obama, are not being deported.
While Paul's quick exit is getting most of the attention, it's worth watching what happens after the Kentucky Senator ducks out. It speaks to why having Steve King as one of the most prominent national voices in the GOP on immigration is a major political problem for a party that needs to find ways to appeal to Hispanic voters in future elections.
King is trying to make point that his support for a repeal of Deferred Action of Child Arrivals (DACA) -- it passed the House late last week but will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate -- was aimed at "drug smugglers" and the like. He just does it in the worst possible way.
To get the full effect, you need to watch the video above -- especially the first four minutes or so. But, just in case you don't, here's a sampling of King's comments to a woman identified in the video as Erika Andiola, who describes herself as a dreamer and Arizona State University graduate.
* "You're very good at English. You can understand the English language so don't act like you don't."
* "You're not going to tell me you're one of them [a drug smuggler]."
* "You understand the English language. Your ears work too."
* In response to Andiola saying her mother brought her to the U.S. illegally as a child : "You had nothing to do with that, right?"
* "I am really sorry you come from a lawless country. I hope that you can have a happy life."
King's words aren't great but it's his tone that makes this so bad politically speaking. He comes across as condescending, sarcastic and annoyed. None of those are traits you want to display publicly as a politician.
Imagine how different things would have been if King had explained to Andiola his reasoning for pushing the repeal of DACA, heard her argument out one time and then simply said: "We're going to agree to disagree. But I appreciate your opinion. Thanks for coming." Would there have been some people outraged? Sure. (I can imagine a "Steve King turns his back on dreamers" headline on a liberal site or two.) But, there would have been nowhere near the attention nationally that the story has now attracted.
In politics, how you say it matters almost as much as what you say. George W. Bush knew that as he advocated a new tone when it came to his party approach to Latinos. "Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande," Bush famously said in 2007 as he pushed Congress for a solution to the millions of Americans in the country illegally.
That effort failed, however, amid concerns from conservatives about the possibility of legalizing millions of people who broke the law. And, since then, the politics of immigration have grown even more politically fraught for Republicans -- with voices like King's rising to even more prominence. (Jeb Bush, who is considering a run for president in 2016, was roundly scolded by conservatives for saying recently that many illegal immigrants come to America out of "an act of love.") That rise in profile for the likes of King has coincided with a dramatic drop-off in Hispanics voting for Republican presidential candidates. In 2004, Bush got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote; Mitt Romney won just 27 percent in 2012.
Incidents like this one with King further a storyline that Republicans are hostile to Hispanics. That's not a storyline Republicans can let fester if they want to be competitive at the national level over the next several decades.