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Paul Ryan doesn’t know what to do with the Steve Kings of the GOP

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sent his now-infamous tweet Sunday about “our civilization” lacking the power to be restored with “someone else's babies” at 1:40 p.m. Eastern.

It took House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) 28 hours to directly comment on it, and then, only when Fox News host Bret Baier asked him.

Ryan is in the middle of a contentious debate on reforming the nation's health care. But time delay is just one example of how Ryan and the GOP establishment are struggling with how to handle King, one of the most controversial members of the House of Representatives. King represents a rising element of the Republican Party, one that its leaders would rather not exist.

In his interview Monday night with Baier, Ryan didn't mince words disagreeing with King's tweet: “I don't think that statement reflects what is special about this country,” he said. But then Ryan added this: "I would like to think — and I haven't spoke to Steve about this — I would like to think he misspoke, and it wasn't meant the way it sounds, and I hope he's clarified that.”

Actually, King's tweet was meant exactly the way it sounds. We know this because King said as much on CNN earlier Monday: “Of course I meant exactly what I said, as is always the case,” King told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

The problem with Ryan's response — to disagree with King's statement but give him the benefit of the doubt — is it ignores a basic reality. King is going to be King, a congressman who often uses code words like "Western civilization” to convey one overarching theme of his world view: that white people are superior to other people.

In that CNN interview, King defended his tweet in part by saying “it's not about race.” But, as a quick Google search reveals, for King, it's ALL about race. Pretty much since getting elected in 2002, King has been spouting views of people, their skin colors and cultures that make the Republican Party's establishment cringe.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has come under fire for saying that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies." (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

On the same night King got elected to his redistricted Sioux City-area district, Mitt Romney lost Hispanic voters by nearly a 3-to-1 margin — and the presidential election. Since then, Republican leaders have been working hard to strike a balance between the party's professed colorblindness and the country growing less white.

King's insistence on talking about white people in the context of their perceived superiority isn't helping. Nor is the fact that some of his views have had an elevated platform in the form of Trump's presidential campaign.

As I wrote in July after King mused on live TV which “subgroup” other than white people had significantly contributed to civilization:

It's all too easy to connect the dots between him and the person Republicans are on the verge of nominating as their presidential nominee. King said in 2010 that racial profiling is an important law enforcement tool; Trump endorsed broad racial profiling after the Orlando attack, calling it “common sense.” In 2008, King questioned how a president with the middle name Hussein would play in the war on terror; after Orlando, Trump questioned the president's commitment to fighting terrorists by seemingly suggesting his loyalties could be compromised.
For all the ways in which Trump has made life difficult for his party, this might be among the most stressful. King sometimes seem to have more in common with Trump than the rest of the party.

And perhaps vice versa — especially during the campaign, Trump sometimes seemed to have more in common with King than the rest of the party.

In June, reporters asked Ryan what he thought of then-candidate Trump's comments that a federal judge couldn't be impartial because of his Mexican heritage. Ryan said it was “the textbook definition of racism.”

Ryan had endorsed Trump five days earlier. Five months later, he would break up with Trump by refusing to defend him. Ryan never once campaigned with Trump, and at one point during the campaign, he publicly disagreed with Trump on average once a week.

Now, Trump is president. And the Steve Kings of the world continue to say what they say. And there are still no easy answers for members of the Republican Party who would like for the party's narrative on race to very much go in the opposite direction.