Vivek Ramaswamy campaigns with former congressman with history of racist remarks


LAKESIDE, Iowa — GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy hit the campaign trail Wednesday with former Rep. Steve King, a controversial figure who lost his seat in 2020 after gaining notoriety for making racist remarks. 

King once told The New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” He also earned condemnation from members of his own party for comments he once made about whether humans would exist if not for babies born as a result of rape and incest. 

A one-time Republican powerbroker in Northwest Iowa, King has receded from the public spotlight since losing his House seat to now-Rep. Randy Feenstra, a fellow Republican who challenged him three years ago. But King appeared Wednesday with Ramaswamy, and while he hasn’t formally endorsed in the 2024 presidential race, his words left little doubt about how he felt. 

“If I were going to give you a speech about all the things that I disagree with that I heard Vivek Ramaswamy say, it’d be the shortest speech of my life,” said King, introducing Ramaswamy to the microphone in Lakeside, Iowa,  just a few miles away from where King was born, during a packed day of campaign events they attended together on Wednesday.

The two men first connected over a common cause: railing against the proposed use of eminent domain to build a carbon capture pipeline through Iowa.  “Steve… you’ve actually been very helpful in my understanding of this issue,” Ramaswamy said, praising King during a campaign event regarding the pipeline on Dec. 1. 

“With the CO2 pipelines, you know who’s not answering? Right at the top of the polls, Donald Trump’s not answering, Ron DeSantis is not answering and Nikki Haley is not answering,” King said, criticizing Ramaswamy’s GOP competitors during one of the eight presidential campaign stops King attended with the presidential hopeful on Wednesday.

Longtime Iowa GOP strategist David Kochel, who worked with the super PAC that opposed King in his 2020 primary against Feenstra, was skeptical that King still wielded any influence in the GOP. “I don’t think Steve King’s endorsement is going to change anybody’s mind,” Kochel told NBC News.

“It was embarrassing to the district to have him sound like a white nationalist, white supremacist,” Kochel said. “I think it just made the district look bad … He was always doing something or saying something controversial and it detracted from his ability to do that job.”

At a campaign event in Northwood on Tuesday, a voter asked Ramaswamy about appearing on the campaign trail with a man accused of being a white supremacist. 

“I don’t think Steve King is a white supremacist,” said Ramaswamy. “I don’t think he’s any [sic] close to that.”

Then-Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in 2019.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

And on Wednesday, Ramaswamy added, “I’m proud that Steve King and I were able to spend a productive day together and I’m proud to have his positive commentary and the kinds of supportive commentary that he’s offered.”

“I think we’re gonna be doing more together,” Ramaswamy added.

Some Republican groups jumped into the 2020 House race against King in part out of concern that he could damage GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s re-election run. The 4th District in Northwest Iowa is the most Republican-heavy congressional district in the state, and Republicans rely on sizable margins there to boost statewide victories. But in 2018, King almost lost his race against Democrat J.D. Scholten.

“His platform did not connect with the regular Iowan,” Scholten, now a state lawmaker, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “He was out there, pretty extreme. So I think folks just felt like he really wasn’t representing us.”

But King could be looking for a comeback. Asked by NBC News if he would consider running for Iowa’s governorship in 2026, King hinted at a return to the political arena. 

“Well, Governor Reynolds is on the side of eminent domain,” said King, taking a jab at Iowa’s popular governor. 

“Bruce Rastetter seems to be pulling the strings,” added King, implying Rastetter, the CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions which is building one of the carbon capture pipelines, has undue influence over Reynolds. 

“If they ticked me off enough, I might take a look,” King continued.

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