EDITORIAL: GOP voices offer choice: Hope or hate-mongering

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Newly minted Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah didn’t wait to take the oath of office this month before offering up a new vision for his party. In a Jan. 1 op-ed in The Washington Post, Romney sought to steer a party besieged by Trump Fatigue in a new and more enlightened direction — going around the president, if necessary.

Not for the first time, the once (and perhaps future) presidential candidate was critical of President Trump, decrying the commander in chief’s failure to rise “to the mantle of the office.” But Romney also sought to set a tone of optimism and inclusiveness.

“(N)oble instincts live in the hearts of Americans,” he wrote. “The people of this great land will eschew the politics of anger and fear if they are summoned to the responsibility by leaders … (.)”

The senator might want to send a copy of his uplifting and instructive essay to the other side of Capitol Hill, specifically to the office his partymate, Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

King, not uncharacteristically, recently has been acting on anything but noble instincts. In fact, he defended not only white nationalism but white supremacy in an interview last week with The New York Times.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” he asked.

FILE - In this June 8, 2018, file photo, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, the House voted 416-1 for a resolution repudiating King’s words expressing puzzlement about why terms like “white nationalist” are offensive. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The comment brought a well-deserved cascade of criticism, including from Iowa’s two Republican senators, and King attempted to walk it back, claiming he is not a white nationalist, simply a nationalist (a distinction somewhat akin to that between a fire siren and a dog whistle).

Proclamations of benign intent might be easier to swallow absent King’s history of racially insensitive behavior. Last fall, he met with a Nazi-linked party in Austria, where he blamed immigration for the “decline” of Western civilization, asking, “What does this diversity bring us that we don’t already have?”

This echoed an eyebrow-raising immigration-related statement he made in 2017: “We can't restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

And indeed, it was only in 2016 that King finally removed a Confederate flag from his office desk. (Never mind the usual piffle about honoring his region’s heritage, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out in the National Review, Iowa fought for the Union during the Civil War.)

In this light, lawmakers’ response to King's recent comments are appropriate.

On Monday, the Republican Steering Committee voted unanimously not to seat him on any committees for the 116th Congress, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said King will not be allowed to attend any House Republican Conference committees.

Some Republicans, including Romney, now are calling on the Iowan to resign from Congress.

President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As others consider their responses, Romney’s Post essay should be required reading. Because many of his critiques of the president would suitably address the like-minded King.

“A president should unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels,’” Romney wrote. “A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect.”

Those are words to remember for any office-holder, of any party.

Republicans wrestling with an ongoing government shutdown for which their party is increasingly and rightly blamed, their new minority status in the House, and near-daily bombshells about questionable actions by the president must weigh carefully how to proceed.

Romney’s essay outlines the kind of principled position-taking that congressional Republicans have largely ceded since President Trump took office. King’s statement reflects the type of divisiveness the administration and its followers have too often enthusiastically abetted.

The difference in direction between these two views is easy to discern. So, too, should the decision about which to follow.