Congressman Steve King (R-IA) appeared on Breitbart News Daily Tuesday to discuss the South Carolina GOP primary, which has grown contentious enough to make King think of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
King noted that duel also occurred during a heated presidential race, amid accusations of lying and cheating.
Burr wanted Hamilton to either retract those charges, deny making them in a cowardly fashion, or show up with his pistol loaded. The current battle between GOP candidates is unlikely to end with pistols at thirty paces, but King and Breitbart News host Stephen K. Bannon shared a chuckle about how it was only a little easier for 18th-century politicians to get away with denying they ever made a controversial statement. Implausible denials are still quite common today, even in the age of Internet video.
King said that Donald Trump accusing Senator Ted Cruz of being “the worst liar he’d ever seen” was the sort of thing that made our forefathers reach for their dueling pistols.
“Some of that came out of Marco Rubio, too, firing those shots both ways at Ted Cruz,” said King. “That just took me back to that history, that the presidency back then may have been decided by that duel.”
He said South Carolina, and other important primaries to come, could be decided by the fierce war of words between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Noting that Trump repeated his accusations of lying against Cruz at a press conference yesterday, King said such an insult “just would not be tolerated” in his circles.
“And when you think about it, the President of the United States could be standing behind a podium, with the great seal of the United States on it, hurling those accusations… he kind of pledged that he wasn’t going to swear as much anymore, and now he’s hurling ‘liar, liar,’” King said of Trump.
He said it was the obligation of the press to make candidates return to the original source – almost always well-documented, in the Information Age – to back up accusations of opponents lying. “I don’t believe that Donald Trump can do that. In fact, I know he can’t do that,” King said of the current row between Trump and Cruz. He called on the press to set the record straight, a challenge he issued live on the air to MSNBC during a recent interview.
“If they want to be a free press… if we want to be a free country, we have to have a free press that drills down into that and reports on it,” King declared. He offered a timeline from his own website, steveking.com, to demonstrate that Cruz’s campaign did not engage in any conspiracy on the night of the Iowa caucuses to trick Ben Carson’s voters into abandoning him, securing a Cruz victory.
“To make those allegations, and then to allege that he’s going to sue over that… that just clouds the waters to the point that some people believe that. And he wants to accuse Cruz of cheating – well, what do you call it when you’re calling somebody a liar and accusing them of doing that?” King asked.
He decried the effect of these charges on the overall quality of the GOP primary, saying they reduced it to the level of a “schoolyard argument.”
Based on his own experience in the 2012 elections, King said it was best not to waste valuable debate time rebutting such false allegations, recommending instead that candidates keep track of false statements and enlist the media in debunking them later. His own account of that previous experience, however, left some doubt as to the effectiveness of leaving false charges unchallenged until after a debate, especially given the media’s general reluctance to help conservative Republicans with their campaigns.
“We ended up with 28, what would you call them, dishonest statements by my opponent,” he said of his 2012 race. “I noted them four or five times during the debate, so they knew the running tally. At the end, I reported the running tally of dishonest statements, and I said, ‘I’m happy to let you all know.’ No press person came to me, no constituent came to me – they weren’t interested in proving whether it was true or not, but I think they did check later.”
King worried that the rift forming between supporters of the Republican anti-Establishment candidates might be too deep to heal. “It could be that people are more forgiving than I am, on something like this,” he allowed, “but I think it’ll be very tough to do that, and it could be that a Jeb Bush, or maybe a Rubio, could emerge” due to the battle between Trump and Cruz.
However, King was not willing to say that he personally could not support Donald Trump for President. “I have to compare him to the alternative,” he said. “What I do think, though, is that Donald Trump has created the television commercials for the Democrats in the general election, no matter who is nominated – I think Donald Trump, his face and his voice, is going to be run over and over again. Democrats will spend hundreds of millions of dollars repeating some of the things he has said. And that’s damaging to all of us, and it’s damaging to our Republic.”
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