February 21, 2013



The thing about a bully is, nobody expects the bullied to win the fight, they just want to see some fight.

So let's say you're on the school bus, a squirmy, gangly, pimple-faced seventh-grader so uncomfortable with talking to girls that you run from animated female characters when playing "Assassin's Creed" on your Xbox 360.

School-fight oddsmakers aren't giving you much chance against Rocco McJockem, the 17-year-old eighth-grader whose parents - originally from football-mad West Texas - "redshirted" Rocco in kindergarten so he'd stack up well against opposing linemen on the prep gridiron.

Rocco is poking you in the ear with pens, calling you all sorts of awful names, generally involving your mother and sister and unspeakable acts. He knocks your books out of your hands, smashes your iPad - all the while terrorizing the other kids on the bus who shrink from a defense for fear they are the next victims.

Sure, you can report this to a teacher.

Yeah, of course, you can tell parents.

But in their hearts, the other kids on that bus, your dad and mom, and, yes, the teachers, want to see you swing back. Even if you bloody well lose the fight. They want you to stand up for yourself, and by extension, all potential targets of bullies, which, let's be honest it, is most of us.

Our congressman faces his own showdown with a bully. It's an adult version of the familiar school-bus scenario.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a direct and to-the-point operator, has even gone so far as to call his bully, well, a bully.

Republican superstar strategist Karl Rove is the force behind an organization called The Conservative Victory Project, which is seeking to prevent candidates it deems self-destructive or too far to the right, from entering Republican primaries. Rove and team have zeroed in on King, a firebrand conservative from Kiron, who is considering running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin

The Victory Project says it's concerned King is an Akin-in-the-makin' - that he's likely to let loose with rhetoric as damaging to a general-election campaign as those made by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin about rape. Akin said women's bodies instinctively can shut down the reproductive process during rapes. The Republicans lost a "sure" seat in the U.S. Senate as a result of the fallout.

Rove's group believes King is one step on any number of issues from a similar fall. So they want him staying right where he is, thank you. They'll recruit uninspiring, electable candidates like U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, to seek statewide office.

But King isn't just putting his iPod headphones on, crawling deeper into the school-bus seat and hoping the bully doesn't see him.

"I'm no stranger to outlandish attacks like this," King fired back in a mass mailing to supporters. "They said I couldn't win in 2012 - the entire political machine was against me - but I soundly defeated my opponent by 8 percentage points. So let me be clear. Nobody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest."

OK, so this is the equivalent of telling the teacher. You've exposed the bully, Mr. King.

But the question looming large is this: Is there really any other way of King fighting back against the bully without running for the U.S. Senate?

Answer: No.

If King doesn't run, Rove has won.

How are Iowa Republicans going to exact revenge on Rove in 2014? By voting for Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley?

It's more than just King being bullied here. It's Iowa conservatism itself.

King is the most trusted spokesman for the movement in Iowa. He's fearless in the arena, ready to take all comers. He has a whip-quick wit trenching foundational views of God and country.

King essentially believes that Iowans who voted for Obama are like kids at a birthday party magic show. His thinking is this: Just give King some time in front of the Obama voters in central and eastern Iowa, and he can show you why the magician pulls a Jack from the deck when you are thinking of a Jack. King won't just explain why the dove fluttered out of the hat, he'll kill that white peace bird right before your eyes, with an AR-15.

Iowa conservatives will never have a better ambassador than King, if they are going with their hearts, and not the equivocation of electioneering. If they really think their message will sell outside of Plymouth and Sioux counties, that I-35 is safe for the crossing, King is their man.

But right now, King is like that seventh-grader on the bus.

He's enduring a dose of Texas-sized bullying from Rove.

Other conservatives are watching closely. After all, if King can't fight back, what chance do they have?

The only punch that matters, the only one with shot of smacking a welt onto Rove's smug mug, is a Steve King announcement for U.S. Senate.

And everyone knows it.