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The unofficial start of the 2016 race, starting with Steve King

On Tuesday, the far-right Iowan was referring to undocumented immigrants as "deportables." Tomorrow, GOP presidential hopefuls will be kissing his ring.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who's developed an unflattering reputation as one of Congress' fiercest anti-immigrant voices, managed to coin a new noun this week. As msnbc's Aliyah Frumin noted on Tuesday, the far-right Iowan "created waves shortly before President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night when he characterized one of the commander-in-chief's guests as 'a deportable.'"
And at a certain level, it's tempting not to care. So, Steve King, the "calves the size of cantaloupes" guy recently labeled an "a**hole" by his own party's Speaker, makes a lot of ridiculous and offensive comments. What else is new?
The answer to that question, it turns out, is quite a bit. Whereas Steve King was once considered a fringe buffoon, he's now helping dictate Republican strategy on immigration policy, and just as importantly, tomorrow many of his party's presidential hopefuls will make their way to the Hawkeye State to kiss his ring.

The largest gathering of potential Republican presidential candidates so far will descend on Iowa on Saturday to test their messages at a forum shaping up as the informal starting gun for the 2016 campaign. The event, which is being hosted by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, offers Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, the most prominent establishment figure on the schedule, a chance to test his appeal among grass-roots conservatives.

And not just Christie, a longtime ally of the right-wing Iowan. The "Iowa Freedom Summit," co-hosted by King and Citizens United, will feature a small parade of unannounced presidential candidates.
In addition to the New Jersey governor, attendees will hear from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), radical neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), former Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), and Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.). It's probably worth noting that John Bolton, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump are also appearing, and they've each expressed an interest in running for national office, too.
Each of them will be looking to curry favor, not only with social conservatives in the first caucus state, but specifically with King himself, who's eager to play the role of presidential kingmaker.
Given the congressman's notoriety as an extremist figure, Politico reported this morning, "Democrats are looking to turn a weekend event in Iowa being hosted by immigration lightning rod Steve King into a spectacle that sets the GOP further back with Latinos ahead of the 2016 campaign."

Across the street, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is planning a press conference to call on Republicans to condemn King's past statements on immigration. King has compared undocumented immigrants to dogs and said many have developed "cantaloupe"-sized calves as drug mules. American Bridge 21st Century, the liberal group that monitors all public utterances of the 2016 candidates, will swarm the event with trackers.... "The 2016 hopefuls tripping over themselves to kiss his ring this weekend had best remember that the tea party base aren't the only people watching -- and that voters will judge them by the company they keep," said American Bridge communications director Ben Ray.

Oddly enough, the Iowa Freedom Summit is just part of what will arguably make this weekend the unofficial start of the 2016 presidential race. Not only are seven likely Republican candidates headed to Des Moines to pal around with Steve King on Saturday, but three would-be presidents -- Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio -- are set to appear at the annual donor event hosted by the Koch brothers on Sunday. As Rachel noted on the show last night, some of the event will be shown online, instead of being held behind closed doors.
And in case that weren't enough, let's also not forget that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) will host a massive prayer rally tomorrow in his home state, alongside thousands of conservative pastors and activists, in advance of his own likely national campaign. "The Response," as the event is called, will be co-hosted by the American Family Association, a bizarre religious right group known for saying offensive things about, well, just about everyone.
I realize it seems a little silly to think a presidential race can get underway when the total number of announced candidates remains at zero. But between these three events, as Yoda might say: begun the 2016 race has.