Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) announced Monday he would not seek reelection in 2020, joining the swelling exodus of congressional Republicans ahead of what many expect to be a difficult environment for GOP incumbents. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly stepped up to praise King, writing on Twitter, “Peter King stood head & shoulders above everyone else. He’s been principled & never let others push him away from his principles,” and adding, “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship.”


If you want an example of how too many in the Democratic Party are still incapable of reckoning with the radical shift of the Republican Party in a meaningful and realistic way, you will find it in Schumer’s tweet. It’s what I call “fantasy politics for Democratic moderates” — the idea that, once Trump is no longer president, reasonable Republicans will have an “epiphany,” to quote former vice president Joe Biden, and begin to work with Democrats.

Let’s be clear: King is a moderate only when judged on the sliding scale of the tyranny of low expectations. Yes, he has been a champion of the victims of 9/11 and supported gun control legislation. But he also claimed — more than a decade ago — “we have too many mosques in this country,” and said many Muslims are “an enemy living amongst us.” He defended police brutality, claiming Eric Garner wouldn’t have died from being held in an illegal chokehold by New York police if he didn’t suffer from “asthma, and a heart condition, and was so obese.” He compared kneeling NFL players to people giving a Nazi salute. He voted to do away with the Affordable Care Act, and removed constituent complaints about that decision from his Facebook page. He’s vehemently anti-abortion.

Yet too many people and organizations who should have known better continued to hope King would see reason. When King faced a surprisingly strong challenge from political novice Liuba Grechen Shirley in 2018, Newsday endorsed him for reelection in part because of his moderate reputation and “our hope that King will step up as a proven leader” to combat the increasingly nasty turn in our politics.

What happened next? King continued to enable the president, claiming the whistleblower complaint about the president’s July call with the president of the Ukraine sounds “almost like an organized operations [sic] from people within the CIA.

King likely would have faced a tough but winnable battle to hold on to his seat in 2020 — he’s a popular figure, the type of incumbent who has hung around long enough that many people like even when they don’t agree with them. “King was a bit of an institution on Long Island, and I think that helped him fend off the [2018] challenge,” veteran New York political operative Neal Kwatra told me on Monday. The district contains both conservative, white, blue-collar areas — Bill O’Reilly’s hometown of Levittown is within its borders — and areas with significant minority populations. Minus King, it’s possible a Democrat could take the seat.

Making nice about King’s record — as Schumer did — shows an almost feckless disregard for the reality of 2019. The Trump administration is trampling the rights of everyone from recipients of government services to undocumented migrants and people desperately seeking asylum in the United States. This is no time for politics as usual with its collegial bromides. No one needs to be salving the egos of Republicans like King. That goes double when you are supposed to be leading the opposition. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish.

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