Blame it on the chicken scarpariello.
Rep. Peter King made news last week when the New York Republican announced he was considering a run for President in 2016, an idea first reported by the conservative website Newsmax. Left unreported in that initial story was the spark that ignited King’s interest in running for the top job. It came at a dinner weeks earlier at an Italian restaurant called Campagnola on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with Chris Ruddy, editor-in-chief of Newsmax, and Vito Fossella, a former Republican congressman from New York.
King told TIME that Ruddy showed up unannounced. “I didn’t even know he was going to be there,” King remembered. “And he said he’d been hearing from a number of people that someone like me could bring together the national security Republicans and the old Reagan Democrats and that I should consider a run. And he said, ‘You mind if I do a story?’ And I said, ‘On what?’ And I didn’t hear from him until I guess last Friday [July 12].”
Five days later, he received another call saying Newsmax had published a story about his possible ambitions. “I realized I had to start thinking about it more seriously when I got the phone call at 11 o’clock on Wednesday night,” said King.
Fossella, who ate chicken scarpariello, said the discussion that night eventually turned to who was going to be running for President in 2016. “My statement to him was, ‘Why not?'” Fossella told TIME. “The party can use and benefit from his experience, involvement and knowledge of homeland security issues.”
Ruddy, who ordered branzino with Amarone, a dry Italian red wine, also confirmed his role in the conversation. “I brought it [the presidency conversation] up,” said Ruddy, who said he was texted the invite from Fossella while he was in town for the Conservative Party’s 51st Anniversary Dinner. “We were talking about how there is no real candidate on the Republican side. And I think the field is wide open.”
Later in the conversation, Ruddy remembers telling King, “Well it sounds like a really great story for Newsmax. I’d like to do something.” Ruddy said King expressed interest at the time in a run, but said he didn’t want to go on the record.
If King does run for President, he would likely distinguish himself from others on national security issues. His hawkish New York attitude is the main reason why he has become a frequent guest on cable talk shows, commenting on many of the top national political stories this year. After the Boston Marathon bombing, he ripped the Federal Bureau of Investigation in hearings and on Fox News for “stonewalling” Congress’ access to information. In April, King called the judge’s decision to read Miranda rights to the bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the midst of his interrogation “disgraceful.”
In June, when the Obama administration faced blowback from naming Fox News reporter James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation, King said on Fox, “If I were Eric Holder, I’d resign.”
Recently King called on the government to prosecute Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who helped Edward Snowden reveal massive National Security Agency programs that compile U.S. telephone records. Greenwald told CNN he was “staggered” by the attack, and that King’s accusation, that he threatened to uncover the names of covert CIA agents, was “literally fabricated out of whole cloth.”
The Long Island congressman has used the recent presidential buzz to gain more notoriety, sending at least four emails to supporters touting the speculation, according to Politicker. The story also landed him on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Friday. After breaking the news Wednesday, Newsmax ran President King stories on Thursday, Friday (twice), Saturday, Sunday and Monday, including one story focused on the “media commotion.”
Besides his foreign policy views, King says that he is unique among other possible presidential contenders because he can appeal to organized labor. “Republicans at times seem to go out of their way to antagonize labor unions,” King told TIME. “These guys are very conservative, socially. And also police officers, firefighters. We are needlessly antagonizing them. That was a part of the old Reagan coalition.”
King has ruffled the feathers of his party before. On January 2, King said that the GOP leadership put “a cruel knife in the back” of New Jersey and New York after denying congressional action for Hurricane Sandy victims. “I can’t imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country,” King said on the House floor. “We have a moral obligation to hold this vote.” That same day King went on Fox to say that anyone from New York and New Jersey who donated to congressional Republicans was “out of their minds.” The House approved nearly $10 billion in aid two days later and nearly $51 billion more by the end of the month.
Despite the media’s coverage, some politicians are incredulous. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, when asked what she thought about a President King, smiled and asked in return, “Was he serious?”
Yet King says he has been invited to a few political events already in New Hampshire, including a county barbecue on September 15, and that “four or five” moderate and conservative congressmen have told him “to keep it going and stay in there.”
Ruddy agrees. “I think people are open to someone new and different,” Ruddy told TIME. “I think Peter has a lot of assets going for him. He is well-liked. He is great on television. He has great visibility. He’s a straight shooter. People want that and I think the Republican Party also needs a little something different. Because if they couldn’t beat an unpopular president in a recession last time, they are going to have an uphill battle in 2016.”
Still, a campaign for President King is far from certain. “There’s no exploratory committee in place. There’s no advisory panel for a campaign. There’s no national people working for me,” said King.
When asked, Rep. King said he thought “President King” “sounds good.”
“We [New Yorkers] had Franklin Roosevelt and we had Teddy Roosevelt, who actually lived in my old congressional district. He lived about 10 miles from my house,” said King. Is there something in the water? “Could be, you never know. See where it goes,” King said.