Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher, who like many Republicans is wondering what happened in this year’s mid-term elections, says one thing seems clear.
“We need to move beyond the conflict associated with Donald Trump,” Fulcher said.
That’s a profound statement coming from one of the few Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 presidential election. And it might not get him a lot of fan mail in Idaho’s First District, where Trump is a popular figure. But Fulcher is not the only Republican casting doubts about Trump leading the party in 2024.
A few potential alternatives have surfaced, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former ambassador Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, and the list will become much larger if support for Trump continues to wane. Fulcher is keeping options open, including backing Trump if no one else is getting traction. For now, he’ll see who joins the fray.
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Fulcher is a big fan of Trump’s policies, but not his style. “A lot of people are not crazy about the drama,” Fulcher says.
It’s not all Trump’s doing. Presidents who lose elections, even hotly contested ones, usually fade from the spotlight soon after leaving office. But not Trump, who is a magnet for fire from Democrats, the media and late-night comics. High-level investigations into his actions and activities, seemingly, will never end.
Reading Fulcher’s signal, that’s not what he wants to see in the party’s future. The congressman acknowledges that being stuck in the time warp of 2016, or 2020, won’t win elections down the line.
Republicans, from Fulcher on down, know this mid-term election should have been a landslide for the GOP by historical proportions – with high gas prices, soaring inflation, a messy foreign policy and problems at the southern border. Overall, it was an embarrassment for Republicans, and it’s no wonder that politicos are pointing fingers at Trump. The election deniers on the GOP ballots were more focused on the “rigged” election of 2020, instead of the future.
But Fulcher doesn’t entirely blame Trump for the losses. “This might sound strange, but I think COVID really did culturally impact our society and we’re still in a COVID hangover,” Fulcher says. “With the shutdowns, and increasing the monetary flow, we have given people incentive not to work. I think there’s a hangover from that.”
Of course in politics – where winning is all that matters — it’s easier to blame one person. And Trump is such an inviting target.
It’s not all gloom and doom for Republicans. They did take control of the House, which brings Biden’s agenda to a screeching halt and gives the likes of Fulcher more clout. He’s in line for chairing a subcommittee on public lands.
However, as Fulcher cautions, don’t expect everything to run smoothly. With a slim majority, every vote in the Republican caucus counts – and keeping everyone in line won’t be easy. The conservative Freedom Caucus, of which Fulcher is a member, is among the in-house coalitions that will be drawing battlelines.
“Democrats are good at locking down votes, but it’s not that way with Republicans,” Fulcher says. “It will be sausage-making at its best. It will not be a pretty process, but the ingredients in this sausage will be better than what we’ve seen in the last four years. There will be blood in the hallways (politically speaking), but the process is worth it. We just have to remember who the enemy is – and it’s not each other.”
What ends up being accomplished remains to be seen, but don’t get your hopes high. For the next two years, we’ll have Republicans in control of the House, Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. It’s a formula for gridlock.
But with Republicans straying from Trump, there will be lots of preening for the 2024 election cycle.
Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.