A few months ago, during an interview on a conservative talk radio station in California's Central Valley, the host asked me what Republicans could do to reach out to Hispanic voters.
I think he was afraid I was going to propose something radical such as the GOP coming out in favor of open borders, or proposing a mass amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Nothing so ambitious.
"Start with this," I said. "You've got to loudly condemn Republican lawmakers like Rep. Steve King of Iowa the next time he says something stupid, hateful or racist."
Guess what? It's the next time.
I had been thinking that day about King's comments on the House floor in July 2006 about how we ought to run electrical wire along the U.S.-Mexico border because, back on the farm, "we do that with livestock all the time." I was also aware that he favors limits on even legal immigration, and that he likes using the offensive term "anchor babies" to describe the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.
What the late George Wallace was to African-Americans, that's what King is to Hispanics. The congressman is either a racist or just an opportunist who panders to racists. Take your pick. Either way, it seems that King just doesn't like Hispanics, and I assure you that the feeling is entirely mutual.
Now King has really gone off the deep end, so much so that the leaders of his own party are trying to distance themselves from the Iowa lawmaker. They haven't been hard enough on him, in my book. But they've been more critical than they ever were before.
You'll see why in a moment.
With Republicans poised to introduce their own version of the DREAM Act to allow undocumented young people who were brought to the United States by their parents to achieve a path to citizenship, King recently suggested that -- contrary to the popular image of undocumented students who study hard and become class valedictorian -- young illegal immigrants from Mexico are much more likely to enter the country as mules for drug smugglers.
Specifically, King said this in an interview with conservative media outlet Newsmax:
"For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another hundred out there that -- they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
Those bizarre remarks got the attention of House Speaker John Boehner, who issued a statement saying: "There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language."
So did King respond? Yes he did -- by being more hateful. During another interview on an Iowa radio show, he doubled down.
"It's not something that I'm making up," King told the host. "This is real. We have people that are mules, that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they've been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back. And if those who advocate for the DREAM Act, if they choose to characterize this about valedictorians, I gave them a different image that we need to be thinking about because we just simply can't be passing legislation looking only at one component of what would be millions of people."
Boehner fired back at his weekly news conference, calling out King by name and saying that the lawmaker's comments were "deeply offensive and wrong." He also made the point that it is comments like these that help make immigration reform so tough to accomplish. You think?
I applaud Boehner's remarks, but the speaker has to go further. There needs to be some punishment meted out. It's time for the GOP to hold these kinds of renegades accountable. Otherwise, the good lawmakers only enable the bad ones. And it all plays into the hands of Democrats, who can continue to take Hispanic support for granted.
For his part, King doesn't seem to understand what he's done wrong. He thinks his critics are just oversensitive.
"It's enough for anybody to be offended these days," King said on the radio show. "They apparently don't have to use their brain."
You want us to use our brains? You first, congressman.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.