David Frum, the conservative writer and critic of Donald Trump, started a column this week by asking:
“So, Republicans, what will you do?”
The question, of course, was prompted by Trump’s announcement of a 2024 campaign, his third in a row, for the Republican nomination for president. The answer to the question Frum posed, and the longish thought processes needed to answer it, will vary considerably by location and constituency. It certainly has pertinence in Idaho, though, as a state that gave Trump 63.9 percent of its vote for president in 2020, and 59.3 percent the election before that.
Those of course were general election numbers, and since the Republican nominee has won Idaho in every election from 1968 to now with numbers not greatly different from those, that’s hardly a shock. The question of who Idaho Republicans will support within their party, however, may be more open to question. There was no serious nomination contest for president among Republicans in 2020, but in 2016 there was, and you may recall the top spot in Idaho’s primary vote then went to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and by a wide margin—he won with 45.4 percent, to Trump’s second-place 28.1 percent. (Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in third.)
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Trump-as-Republican-standard bearer probably will continue to get support from lots of Republican and Republican-leaning voters. But if he’s in competition for the nomination, the picture may be a lot less clear.
Idaho hasn’t been polled (as far as I know) about its Republican presidential preferences in the upcoming presidential election, but many other states, including critical early-voting and swing states, have been, and the most recent results should be sobering for the Trump forces. In a poll conducted for the Club for Growth measuring comparative support for Trump against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (who is not yet a declared candidate, and may or may not become one) a string of states all showed clear leads for DeSantis—in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia—and in each case better numbers in November than in August for DeSantis and worse for Trump.
Last June the subject of preferences came up at a western states Republican gathering. Republican Party of Montana Chairman Don Kaltschmidt then opined, “Montana remains Trump country, DeSantis is the No. 2 guy, but they love Trump here. But there are people that hope Trump does not run. We want to make sure we have someone who can win. If Trump does not run, DeSantis is shoo-in here.”
Of course, the dozen or so other prospects have yet to really make their own presence felt. Then too, the history of presidential battlefields is full of supposed sure bets and major front runners who came up short. Cast your mind back to Jeb! Bush from 2015 or (on the Democratic side) Bernie Sanders circa January 2020. But the polling does seem to be indicating some in-party weakness for Trump, and whether DeSantis becomes a hot favorite or just a flavor of the month isn’t yet a settled question.
How big are Idaho Republicans on Trump?
Up to this point, Idaho Republicans have more or less unified around him. But there have been indications of a readiness to move in other directions. The unusually large number of Republicans who backed the Democratic opponent to incoming Republican Attorney General Raul Labrador easily could be a foreshadowing of interest in backing a Republican candidate for president who would be more traditionally mainstream and less Trumpian.
Bear in mind where most primary elections in Idaho in the last few years have gone: Mostly favoring more mainstream candidates over those who seem more Trumpy. Remember who won the last Republican primary for governor: Brad Little, a mainstream Republican, who easily defeated Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who had been endorsed by Trump.
Don’t be surprised if some significant DeSantis organization efforts start to kick in around Idaho soon, with some efforts for other candidates as well. Idaho may be in for a limited political reorganization before long.