Why is Peter King Suddenly Pretending to Run For President?

Suddenly, Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) is doing all he can to get himself in the spotlight. He says he’s considering running for president. He isn’t — but he does seem to want media attention on him at this moment. One potential explanation strikes me as overwhelmingly likely: the recent subpoena of his home county’s GOP.

On Friday, Dave Weigel of Slate and MSNBC ‏ tweeted, “PETER KING: Hey, can I pretend I'm running for president just so you'll interview me? MEDIA: Sure, we have no self-respect.” Weigel is right: Not only is Peter King never going to run for president, but the media has failed to consider why King wants the spotlight on himself now in particular, and what he may want the media to ignore.

Peter King is a congressman from Nassau County, Long Island. He is very closely associated with the Nassau County Republican Party. Last week, numerous sources reported that the New York State attorney general's office “has subpoenaed the Nassau GOP and County Executive Edward Mangano's re-election campaign for information about contributions from Sandy-related contractors.” According to the attorney general, Sandy-related contracts were allegedly given in exchange for campaign donations.

King claims that many have approached him about running, in order to provide a presidential option with a strong national-security background. He also used his spotlight to get a dig in at Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) . “We have people like Rand Paul talking about drones killing Americans drinking coffee at Starbucks, which to me is a ridiculous debate to be having,” King said.

King said he has “no campaign structure or plan yet,” which makes his banter about potentially running perplexing. One should consider whether Rep. King wants the media to focus on his “potential” presidential run, rather than on investigations into the Nassau GOP with which he is closely allied.

The culture of corruption in the Nassau GOP is not a recent revelation. Michael New wrote in National Review last year that the Nassau County Republican Party is “an old-school political machine which controls a number of patronage jobs and wields considerable control over nominations. Their members … have voted to raise taxes, increase fees, and offer unions generous contracts; they’re partly responsible for the fiscal mess in Nassau County.”

New’s article referred to last year’s New York 4th District congressional race, on which I worked. The corruption I witnessed was heartbreaking. I was communications director for Republican Frank Scaturro. He ran in a primary against the Nassau GOP machine’s first choice, County Legislator Frank Becker. Becker’s campaign doctored pictures of Scaturro, as described in an article in National Review titled “A High-Tech Dirty Trick in New York’s Fourth." Becker also “distributed fliers at a largely African-American Baptist church,” deceptively encouraging “people to vote ‘Obama on Row A’ and ‘Becker on Row B.’” So much for Republican unity! “The flier also offered a free scratch [lottery] ticket in exchange for a voter’s name and contact information.”

Former Congressman John LeBoutillier wrote an article in Newsmax last year calling out this primary for the farce it was and claiming, “The party bosses who propped up Becker have acted with the grossest display of political thuggery I have seen in recent American history.” Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner wrote similarly that the Nassau GOP “is an old-style political machine, lubricated by putatively voluntary contributions from county and local employees and chaired by the same man, Joseph Mondello, since 1983.” What he forgot to add is that Mondello’s predecessor, Joseph Margiotta, went to jail, which led Mondello to take over the Nassau GOP.

I received my start in politics in Nassau County, and soon became aware of the corruption. Not everyone in Nassau GOP politics is corrupt, of course. I had the privilege of working with many people who had the county’s best interests at heart. From my experiences, the way in which the Nassau GOP operates is rare, certainly not representative of other branches of the GOP. Its behavior is contrary to the goals of Republicans.

It is clear that many members of the Nassau GOP wholly disregard integrity, as well as party unity. They will tell people to vote for President Obama, whose ideology is contrary to theirs, if it will benefit them. The most recent scandal in the Nassau GOP has strong potential to bring to light this corruption. King’s bizarre decision to pretend to float a potential presidential bid may leave one wondering if his actions are an effort to focus the media on himself, and protect the Nassau GOP from the media scrutiny it deserves.