On Aug. 24, days before primaries in Florida and Arizona would demonstrate President Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) did something risky.
He said that the president had a pretty dumb idea.
“Space Force, space cadets, space force, something,” Knight said, according to a tape provided to The Washington Post. “I will tell you, as your representative, I agree with this zero. This is not a direction I think we should go.”
Knight, who represents a Los Angeles-area district that Trump lost by 6.7 points, was never one of the president’s big defenders inside his party. In 2016, he resisted saying who he would back for president until after the election; he has not joined many of his colleagues in calling for probes of foreign meddling in the 2016 election to end.
In the tape, Knight took a markedly sarcastic tone about the “space force,” one of the president’s most attention-grabbing ideas. The government, he suggested, was “going to go in that direction” no matter what he said, but in his view, doing it would “cannibalize the Air Force,” simply to be able to “say that we are taking care of space now because we have a force called space-something.”
More dangerously, Knight suggested that he would keep his opinion quiet when Vice President Pence came to California.
“I am sure he’ll talk about this,” Knight said. “If I get to say anything around Vice President Pence I won’t say that I disagree with it, but I do.”
Reached for comment, the campaign of Katie Hill, Knight’s Democratic opponent, had nothing to say about the tape. Knight himself, after expressing surprise that his comments were recorded, said that he could welcome the chance to air his opinion. This was not a case where he feared alienating Trump voters, the sort of activists who had ended the careers of Republicans seen as critical of the president.
“I think if the vice president asked me what my opinion is, I would tell him,” Knight said. “I’m not going to go up to the vice president and tell him, but if he asks, sure. I’m standing up for the U.S. Air Force here; there’s nobody on the planet that does this better than they do. I’m fine with giving them more assets, not with diverting them.”
Knight went on to reiterate his position on the “space force,” adding that he’d been “pretty vocal” about it, if he hadn’t (outside of private settings) said he would keep his opinion from the White House.
“Some people say that a ‘space force’ would be a corps inside the Air Force, like the Marines are inside the Navy,” Knight said. “I get that; that would be a way I would find to be acceptable. Maybe I should reserve my opinion until I see the nuts and bolts.”