It says something about the declining interest in politics as well as the media’s declining interest in substance, prefering entertainment instead, that the still presumptive Republican nominee, Jeb Bush, could fly into Boise in late April, meet with 35 prominent Republican activists, depart and not one media outlet was aware of the visit.
The long-time alpha wolf of the Idaho press corps, the Idaho Statesman’s John Corlett, must have rolled over in his grave.
The April 20 visit was confirmed by Emily Baker, a product of the Bush 43 White House and Nampa native who returned home and today is the Boise managing partner of Gallatin Public Affairs (Full disclosure: I am the founder of Gallatin but no longer have any ties to the firm). Ms. Baker helped put the event together on a volunteer basis, but she is squarely in the camp of largely mainstream, moderate Republicans who support the Bush candidacy.
She described the event as a meet, greet and learn session with the former Florida governor answering any and all questions. Jeb Bush can deliver information in a straight talking manner without engaging in the bombast and exaggerated but simplified rhetoric that has made businessman Donald Trump attractive to some.
Ms. Baker said they did not seek media but would, as she was now doing, have responded to questions about the event. She said it was not a fundraiser nor was it a pressure event telling people to get on early or they’d miss the train leaving the station.
At this early stage in the marathon Idaho Republicans, according to a Dan Jones poll done in June for Zions National Bank mirror the nation. The poll was conducted before Trump made his gaffes questioning whether Arizona Senator John McCain was really a hero because heroes don’t get captured, his insulting reference to Holy Communion and his admission he’d never asked God for forgiveness. Paradoxically, those gaffes sparked a temporary spike in his popularity.
In June, according to Jones, 17% of likely Idaho Republican voters favored Bush, 11% liked Trump and 11% favored Florida Senator Marco Rubio who had been in Idaho Falls just prior to Bush’s visit. Despite the low-key nature of the Bush visit it did generate some controversy behind the scenes in part because some long-time Bush loyalists were not invited. In addition, there was a charge made that some of Mitt Romney's supporters “hijacked” the event. Prominent Romney supporter, Melaleuca billionaire Frank
VanderSloot, however, did not attend the Bush event nor did his political and governmental vice president, Damon Watkins.
In talking on background with two long-time veteran Republican consultants, one pointed out that Travis Hawks, a Boise-based political hired gun, had been retained to put together the visit by Senator Rubio as well as working on the invite list for the Bush event.
Both operatives described the political ground as fluid in Idaho as well as the nation. Both thought Trump was more than likely to self-destruct. Both though acknowledged the media’s entertainment fixation was feeding Trump’s rise while serious candidates were literally gasping for air time due to Trump’s ability to suck all the oxygen out of a room. One cited what he termed today’s “low information voter” as the source of the decline in substance interest. He believes these voters are no more than 20% of the Idaho Republican base and mistake bromides for real thought, and pop-offs for substance.
While neither consultant was surprised by Congressman Labrador’s early endorsement of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, they were surprised given his father’s popularity that the Senator was only drawing 6% support in Idaho. Neither were they surprised that Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was keeping his powder dry as are the other members of the delegation. Both expect Otter ultimately to endorse a current or former governor for the nomination. One said folks should keep an eye on Ohio Governor John Kasich. “No Republican wins the presidency without taking Ohio,” he pointed out. The other described Kasich as a “Republican version of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus.”
Both operatives believe immigration reform will be a major divisive issue for Idaho Republicans, “There is no one Idaho solution,” said one, which the next day was confirmed by a report in the Idaho Statesman regarding the differing views across the Idaho business community about immigration reform.
Thus, while it is still early, lines are forming, choices are being made. If the field is still muddled at convention time next year neither Republican operative discounted the possibility that Mitt Romney might emerge again as the nominee. There are more than a few in Idaho that would be happy to see that. Still the logic of a Jeb Bush/John Kasich ticket sounds compelling also.