If Peter King’s brand of Republicanism seems to be on the wane these days, the Long Island congressman isn’t letting it go quietly.
King, 69, has long been one of the Hill’s most quotable and irascible troublemakers, a frequent presence on cable television with an apparently boundless capacity for outrage. He has fumed over topics as serious as Hurricane Sandy relief and aid for Sept. 11 responders, and as comparatively trivial as the White House party crashers and the death of Michael Jackson (whom he called a “lowlife” and a “pervert.”) King broke with Newt Gingrich over the government shutdowns of the mid-1990s and earned the gratitude of the Clinton clan when he rebuked his own party for impeaching a president for sexual indiscretions.
So while it’s not a surprise that King would be one of the Republican Party’s most prominent internal critics these days, even the congressman’s friends say there’s a new intensity and urgency to the lawmaker’s indignation.
King has thundered away in recent months against what he calls the “Ted Cruz wing” of the Republican Party, criticizing the GOP’s libertarian drift on issues such as domestic surveillance and assailing what he views as the utter pointlessness of the House’s effort to defund Obamacare at the cost of a government shutdown. He has floated the idea of a 2016 presidential campaign largely out of opposition to the tea party crowd.
His frustration, friends say, reflects a deepening conviction that Republicans have lost touch with the working-class, middle-of-the-road voters who sent King to Congress in the first place, and who used to make Republican candidates for the Senate and the presidency competitive in downstate New York.
For a veteran pol like King, the plain reality is, there has never been a lonelier time on the Hill to be a blue-collar Republican from Nassau County. When he tried to trigger a revolt against the shutdown this week, only one moderate-leaning Republican – Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent – joined the effort.RELATED: Megyn Kelly Kicks Off in Primetime with Cruz: ‘What’s It Like To Be The Most Hated Man in America?’
Speaking to POLITICO in his Capitol Hill office, King rejected the notion that he, rather than the great majority of his colleagues who have supported the shutdown, is out of step with the national Republican electorate.
“I don’t consider these guys conservatives. I think the party is going in an isolationist trend. It’s appealing to the lowest common denominator in many ways. And this whole threat of defunding the government, to me, is not conservative at all,” said King, who added later: “Maybe we do live in different worlds. These guys from the Ted Cruz wing live in their own echo chamber.”
The vast cultural gulf that separates King from many of his Republican colleagues is evident from a quick glance around the walls of his office. In a heavily Southern-inflected GOP conference, King is an Irish policeman’s son; he is surely the only member with photos of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca on his wall, and a piece of the destroyed Secret Service office at 7 World Trade Center on his desk.
Yet King insists he is not the outlier in the Republican-held House. On the contrary, he argues, his district has a mix of voters that more closely approximates a winning national electorate than those of most of his GOP colleagues.
“It basically would be right-of-center Republicans and Reagan Democrats, people who belong to building trade unions, cops, firefighters, middle-class families who are fighting to get ahead, but also realize that life isn’t that simple,” King said. “There’s a big building trade constituency in Ohio and Pennsylvania, for instance. I think a blue-collar conservative could carry Pennsylvania for president, could carry Ohio, for instance, but we alienate those groups.”