The horror writer Stephen King probably didn’t intend his story “Graveyard Shift,” first published in 1970, to be a metaphor for political depravity. It’s about a man who toils in a textile mill, where rats have turned the forbidding basement into their own corrupt kingdom.
But this is 2018, the year that everything — even Barbra Streisand ballads — became about politics in the age of President Donald Trump. And King, like everyone else, is coming out swinging on social media. So it’s not hard to envision how he would apply his sickening story to the queasy state of the nation.
On Sunday, King let slip who, in his portrayal, the reviled queen rat might be — someone who, in the writer’s words, he has “personal reasons” for disliking.
The short story is set in Maine, but King briefly turned his attention to Iowa, where one of the president’s congressional acolytes is facing his first credible challenger in years. The best-selling author and deep-pocketed Democratic donor asked Iowa residents to vote against Republican Rep. Steve King because, the King of fright tweeted, “I’m tired of being confused with this racist dumbbell.”
Iowans, for personal reasons I hope you’ll vote Steve King out. I’m tired of being confused with this racist dumbbell.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) November 4, 2018
The King of Congress might well relish the author’s disparagement. On Saturday, the Republican responded to an onslaught of criticism fueling a fundraising blitz by his Democratic opponent — first-time candidate J.D. Scholten — by taking aim at “Left Coast billionaires.” The portmanteau of sorts blended two of King’s most common slights, left wing and East Coast.
A wave of criticism has buffeted the eight-term congressman in recent days.
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Republican campaign arm, last week assailed King on Twitter for “white supremacy and hate.” Another Republican, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, said on MSNBC that he would never vote for “someone like Steve King,” even if it meant forfeiting control of the House, calling his colleague’s statements and actions “disgusting.”
Intel, AT&T, Purina and Land O’Lakes pulled financial support. Meanwhile, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to censure King for statements and affiliations “that are anti-Semitic and offensive not just to the Jewish community, but to all Americans.” The Republican leader has not done so.
The backlash stems from King’s record of racially incendiary rhetoric and his association with figures, in the United States and abroad, with Nazi ties. He took to Twitter last year to declare his support for ethnic nationalism, writing, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” His party didn’t rebuke him in June when he retweeted a message from a self-described “Nazi sympathizer.” Last month, he voiced support for Faith Goldy, an unsuccessful Toronto mayoral candidate who has promoted the baseless notion that a “white genocide” is underway. And last week, reports surfaced that King had met in August with members of an Austrian political party founded by former Nazis, during a trip funded by a group that promotes awareness of the Holocaust.
At a town hall last week, King erupted when an attendee asked him whether his hard-line views on race and identity bore resemblance to those of Robert Bowers, the man accused of gunning down 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“You’re done. You crossed the line. It’s not tolerable to accuse me to be associated with a guy that shot 11 people in Pittsburgh,” King said. “This is over, if you don’t stop talking.”
It remains to be seen whether the controversy that has engulfed the right-wing congressman will alter his fate on Tuesday. Despite one poll last week, by a Democratic firm, finding that King had only a one-point lead over his opponent, most surveys show a more comfortable gap between him and Scholten, a former minor league pitcher and paralegal.
The two sparred on Twitter all weekend.
Steve King tweeted “My opponent is the antithesis (the opposite) of Iowa values. My record proves I embody them. Don’t let the million$ from Left Coast billionaires pay in advance and buy your Congressman.”
J.D. Scholten tweeted “.@SteveKingIA, you’ve had a lot to say about me lately, and seem to have some misconceptions about my campaign. How about we give the people what they want and deserve, and meet somewhere in the district tonight to hold a live impromptu debate? #IA04 Anyone else want to see that?”
J.D. Scholten tweeted “If you look up ‘desperate’ right now you will see an image of @SteveKingIA…”
Scholten retweeted the novelist’s appeal to Iowa voters. But the name-calling was hardly reserved for the Hawkeye State Republican. King, the author, reached back into his 1982 short story “The Raft” — or perhaps another tale of horror at sea — to find an insult for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “Crawdad,” he called him.