"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

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Democrat Branden Durst represented the southeast Boise area in the Idaho House for two terms after his elections in 2006 and 2008, and then for about a year in the Idaho Senate after his election in 2012. In November 2013, having half-moved to Washington state, he resigned.

This year, situated full-time in southern Pierce County (county seat: Tacoma), he’s running again, now for a House seat in Washington’s 29th district.

In the early days of most of our western states there was nothing unusual about running for office, sequentially, in multiple states; many of Idaho’s early lawmakers did, spreading expertise gathered in sundry statehouses. In more recent decades, political people in most states have found more electoral strength in emphasizing local roots over job experience. Among recent Idaho legislators, only Senator Steve Vick, R-Hayden, comes to mind as having been elected to another state’s legislature (the Montana House). If anyone knows of another in recent years, let me know. Nationally, it’s not unknown, but rare.

The similarities and differences of running in different states surely offer some insights single-state candidates don’t see. I asked Durst last week about some of those.

He is running in District 29, a mostly suburban area reaching south of Tacoma, including such communities as Lakewood and Parkland. That area actually is a lot like Durst’s old southeast Boise district, including its at-present Democratic lean. Durst is challenging an incumbent Democratic representative, David Sawyer of Parkland. There’s also a Republican, Rick Thomas, in the race.

For all that Washington is classed as a Democratic “blue” state in the presidential election, its legislature is split closely between the two parties, with a Republican Senate and Democratic House.

A number of legislative issues track across state lines. Public school financing is a hot topic in Washington. There as in Idaho the state supreme court has said the legislature has not adequately addressed that funding, but in Washington, the court has gone further and held the legislature in contempt, and imposed fines. It’s a subject of widespread discussion.

One obvious campaign difference from Idaho is the “top two” element. Durst and both other candidates in the August primary election each are seeking to do better than come in third; whichever two do progress on to November, even if they’re of the same party. November becomes a runoff. Mostly around the state this still means a Democrat and a Republican running against each other in November, but not always.

Another difference, which pops up in the practicalities of running, is that outsiders have a harder time there gaining traction than they do in Idaho. In Idaho, candidates can (and often should) do a good deal of work before formally filing for office in March, but they don’t have to. In Washington, most of the campaign finance, organization and other work is long since done by the time a candidate formally files in May. Major endorsing organizations too have made their donation or other support decisions far in advance of May, Durst said, and “if you’re new to the political process you’d have almost no chance of being successful.”

They need more resources too than in Idaho. A legislative district in Washington has several times as many people as those in Idaho, and campaign budgets and organizations typically are several times as large. In 2014, Representative Sawyer and his main opponent each spent more than $90,000, but that’s on the low side; many competitive campaigns in Washington have quarter-million dollar budgets. That’s far more than the norm in Idaho.

“In Idaho, individual candidates have a little more control over their individual destiny,” Durst said.

And he said that in Washington, “there’s much more transparency in finance here,” with state agencies that require extensive filing of campaign and personal finances. The downside is that this can rapidly become complex and difficult: “people are expected to pay for a consultant, and consultants aren’t cheap … That would be unheard of in Idaho.”

Still, he said, the basics are the basics. Knocking on doors and shaking hands is not so different in any state.

“The fundamentals are the same, wherever you live.”

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Water is critical everywhere, but Idaho notices more than most when the water levels are off.

And things go better when they’re not.

Idahoans see it in the stream levels, and in so much else of what they do. In the populous areas of southern Idaho, when water levels are low, people go for each other’s throats – not in a physically literal sense anymore (although there is some history of that), but in the courts, and in business. Low water levels determine whether a farm or an industrial business gets the water to survive, to stay in business. Courts, and the state government, determine who gets water and who goes parched.

The effects ripple. A good water year can mean overall prosperity and a sense of community. Poor water years can tear at the social fabric.

So if, in some ways, Idaho has a little more upbeat feel this year than last, you can find some of the reason as I do in reviewing the water levels.

I check them every week, starting with a web page updated daily by the National Resources Conservation Service, called “Snotel narrative.” (You can see it at their site.) The data are technical, and the lines I follow are described this way: “The Accumulated Precipitation Percent of Average represents the total precipitation (beginning October 1st) found at selected SNOTEL sites in or near the basin compared to the Average value for those sites on this day.”

It gives you a feel for how the snowpack, which as the year goes on will dictate much of the water flow, is developing compared to the historical norms, in all the basins in Idaho. A reading of 100 is normal; higher is more water, lower is less. Great variations can mean flood or drought.

Five years ago, for example, the Northern Panhandle area was at 106 – just a bit above normal. The Salmon basin was at 98, the Boise at 106, the Little Wood 103, the Henry’s Fork 96, the Bear River 78 – the lowest in the state. So in 2011, the state overall was running just about average.

Last year at this point, here were the figures for those same basins: the Northern Panhandle 97, the Salmon basin 87, the Boise at 89, the Little Wood 70, the Henry’s Fork 76, the Bear River 71. The lowest last year at this time was the Medicine Lodge and Camas Creek area (in eastern Idaho) at just 61 – a sign of a very tough water year to come. In fact, the whole state was running short of water, and the legal battles and economic tensions were running high.

This year, things have changed.

A week ago, here is what the comparable reading show: the Northern Panhandle 121, the Salmon basin 112, the Boise at 114, the Little Wood 105, the Henry’s Fork 97 (tied for lowest in the state, with the Snake River above the Palisades Dam), the Bear River 100.

Quite an improvement.

The U.S. Geological Survey last week released a series of drought area maps covering the period up through March. Idaho’s – which last year was piled in with eerie shares of yellow, orange and even dark red markers of strong drought warnings – this year is producing only a few widely-scattered dabs of lightest-level drought warnings.

Don’t be surprised if some of the tensions around the state don’t ease off just a little as the months ahead progress. Plentiful water makes for some happy civic medicine.

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I’m trying to play this out . . . this whole Republican contested convention thing. How does that work if, say, no one walks in the door without having in hand an adequate number of delegate votes for president.

Let’s game it out; or at least, weigh the probabilities. Call it a mental exercise to clean out a few cobwebs.

The best odds now favor businessman Donald Trump coming close to the major number of 1,237 votes, but falling short maybe 50 to 100. (He may still get there, but after Wisconsin the probabilities are running just slightly againn.) Texas Senator Ted Cruz is maybe 250 short of him; that gap could be closer or narrower, either one, by the time contests end in early June. Cruz is running much the better campaign, but Trump still has strong polling advantages in both of the magilla states of New York and California.

There will presumably be some attempt, after the statewide votes are done as of June 7, at a limited non-aggression pact between them. There will be attempts by other interests – maybe hoping for a third contender to ride in as a dark horse – to change the rules, to allow for additional possibilities for the nominee other than those two. Trump and Cruz have a joint interest in defeating that, so they may try and shut down rule changes. Both candidates would be interested in adjusting the rules in their own individual interests as well, so maybe any non-aggression pact would be reliant on allowing no rule changes at all. They could pull that off as long as, between them, they keep effective control of most of the delegates at the convention.

Okay: Suppose we then go to the first ballot with no significant rule changes. Both candidates will have been hustling hard to scrounge additional delegates in an effort to reach 1,237. (Those could come from undeclared officials who are automatic delegates, and maybe some from the few other candidates, like Marco Rubio or John Kasich, won.) It’s possible, probably not likely, Trump could be close enough in his pre-convention count to pull that off. Cruz’ campaign has been good at collecting stray delegates and probably could add significantly to his count, but enough to reach 1,237 before the first ballot? For now, that seems unlikely.

So we get to the first ballot and delegate votes are cast. The probability is that Trump comes in first, but still a little short of the magic 1,237, and Cruz comes in somewhere around 100 to 150 behind him, with a small scattering of other votes unwilling to line up behind either.

Then it gets interesting, because many – not all – of the delegates bound to Trump and Cruz on the first ballot are “released” on the second to do as they choose. (Most of the rest are similarly “released” after the second.) Presumably (and this may be a hotly-challenged point), the second round of balloting also will feature Trump and Cruz, and no one else. Will others be added? The existing rules don’t seem to allow it at this point, allowing (as Cruz has repeatedly pointed out) a threshold of support in at least eight states, but that could be a matter of interpretation. It could be that after the second ballot, a well-organized effort might be able to come up to that threshold.

On that second ballot, who picks up? Well, more likely, it’s: Who drops? Some of Trump’s delegates may be there only as party officials fulfilling a role and, once unbound, they may start pushing for someone else. Who?

That would seem to suggest a serious organizing effort well in advance of the convention for someone else lying in wait, to become the recipient of those stray Trump and Cruz votes once they’re available. But who will that be? House Speaker Paul Ryan seems likely to disown any efforts of that sort. But someone ought to be ready, otherwise chaos – in the form of dozens of possibly contenders, including local favorites from various states – will swiftly surface. If that happened, and it isn’t brought quickly under control, you could get into a series of sudden cascading conflicts that could lead to ballots 3, 4, 5, 6 and beyond. This could go on for days.

Part of this relates to how many votes would Trump and Cruz each lose once delegates become unbound, a question no one yet can answer. (Could they persuade a few crossovers?) By the time they walk into the convention, they probably will have maxed out – at least for the moment – on the number of delegates they can easily get. After the second ballot, their numbers may be smaller but their opponents may have multiplied, absent some kind of strong organizing effort up front.

If there is a major organizing effort up front, Trump and Cruz could use that as a lever to keep their troops in line, at least for a while. And they could re-up their non-aggression pact in opposition to some new third contender, because they surely would, between them, continue to command the loyalty of more than half of the total delegates.

And that’s about as far as I can take this exercise for the moment: A cycle of failed nomination votes with a built-in dynamic that keeps anyone from breaking free with more than half the total number of delegates.

Eventually, sheer exhaustion may take over, some key player or more than one will drop out, and someone will emerge. How long will it take for that to happen? The longest national party convention, the Democratic in 1924, took about two weeks and 103 ballots. That nomination, by the way, went to the lesser-known John W. Davis, after the two top contenders at the start of balloting pulled out. Davis went on to lose in a landslide to Republican Calvin Coolidge.

And that was with a mighty incentive the delegates of 2016 won’t have: They didn’t have air conditioning back then.

How long might the Republicans stay in Cleveland? A long time unless someone, somewhere, beats the odds.

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When the Idaho Legislature adjourned on the early side this year, the common comment was that they had to get home to deal with the primary elections coming up.

Well, some of them did. About a third of Idaho’s legislators do face primary contests, and since the bulk of the state is one-party territory, that’s where challenges will occur if they’re going to at all. Those elections will nonetheless be worth a close watch for indicators for how Idaho is changing. If it is.

Nearly all of the legislative primary contests are on the Republican side – I counted just three on the Democratic, and just one of those involves an incumbent (Representative John McCrostie of Garden City). Of the Republican contests, some seem likely to split into the “insurgent against establishment” mold, though not all do. Some may become quite personal.

A few challengers jump out because they’ve been visible before. Marvin “Chick” Heileson of Idaho Falls twice ran hard against U.S. Representative Mike Simpson but this year localizes his sights to the Idaho Legislature, and specifically to veteran Dell Raybould of Rexburg. Heileson was a hard-charging Tea Party candidate against Simpson, with support from Club for Growth and an issue base focused on national subjects. What his state-level campaign against Raybould will look like is unclear.

But we may have a better idea of the campaign to come over in Boise, where Rod Beck is running again. Beck, who served several terms in the state Senate and has run unsuccessfully for higher office and the legislature since, this year emerged as state chair for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. He is challenging a very different kind of person, second-term House member Patrick McDonald. McDonald, a former U.S. marshal for Idaho with a career in law enforcement, has been a generally uncontroversial and low-key representative. But Beck (whose projects have included closing the Republican primary to party members only) has a way of stirring things up; watch for some headlines over in District 15.

That however will be one of the few cases of primary contest excitement in the Boise area. Most of the primary contests are located in more rural reaches of the state.

The most significant could be in the far north, in District 1 – up by the Canadian border. There, the new (as of this session) co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Shawn Keough, is being challenged again in the primary, this time by Glenn Rohrer. Keough has been challenged regularly from the activist right, four times before this year in the last decade. She won the first first three by lopsided margins, with two-thirds of the vote or better. In 2014, however, she was down to 53.8% of the vote, and Rohrer has started early and energetically this time.

That may be the contest which sets the political tone, more than any other, for this year’s Idaho primaries. Both U.S. House seats have primary challenges to the incumbents, but these were late-emerging and have the look of longshots. There is also, actually, a primary contest between two would-be standard bearers for the Constitution Party (one of those being the frequent contender Pro-Life from Letha), but that’s not likely to impact the state a great deal.

This is a season of intense national discussion and dissension over what the two national parties are all about. For a sense of where Idaho politics plays into that, and may be going, the legislative races may be as good a place to look as any.

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For all the recent references to the aftereffects of the presidential runs of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972, there’s been remarkably little comparison of how the two parties responded to those mega-losses.

And the responses were different, and those differences reverberate today.

The losses were roughly comparable in scope. Goldwater lost to incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson by 486-52, winning only his home state of Arizona and five states in the deep south (which historically had been deemed Democratic – this was a key point in their transition toward Republican). McGovern lost similarly in the popular vote, but even more heavily in the electoral, 520-17.

Both candidacies came from the philosophical edges of the respective parties, the Republican right and Democratic left. Both were preceded by warnings of leaving the vital center behind – big losses were widely predicted. And in each case the party’s center nominated the next president (Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Jimmy Carter).

Just below the surface, other things happened.

The reaction of Goldwater’s supporters (not so much Goldwater himself) was not to give up and acknowledge they’d gone too far, but rather to double down and keep their eye on the long game. They did not heavily challenge for the presidency in 1968, though Ronald Reagan did make a significant appearance, but instead began building for the future: Media, think tanks, investments in personnel, whole new news media (eventually, talk radio, Fox News and much more), pushes to gradually move the party rightward and challenge liberal Republicans. It was a long game indeed, but it paid off. 16 years after Goldwater’s loss the right was triumphant, electing Reagan and launching a generation of politics in which something like Goldwater-style conservatism was the dominant driving political force in the country. Republicans did not always win, but even when Democrats did they had to respond to the world world of Goldwater and Reagan.

Compare that to the way Democrats responded after the McGovern loss. There was virtually no talk afterward of doubling down on moving leftward; nearly all the Democratic strategic talk was of trying to recapture the center, of moving right. In contrast to the infrastructure building on the right, the reaction on the left was more of a defensive crouch. Before the 70s the word “conservative” had been in some decline as a proud political description; from the mid-70s onward, it was owned by Republicans and waved as a proud banner. During that same period, the word “liberal,” which mostly had been happily embraced by liberals for years, was attacked and left undefended, and until very recently was avoided by most Democrats.

Times change, and both parties are struggling now with the changes they are coping with – that the country is pushing them through.

Organization Republicans now have, partly because their own preferences and partly because of the way Democrats have acted, a couple of generations of ideological inflexibility – it’s all they know. Now the Republican base has split wide as millions (many of those we call Donald Trump supporters) has recognized weaknesses (or at least, areas of strong disagreement) in the acceptable ideology. The logical end game for a politics based around Goldwaterism has come in view.

And Democrats? They’re more flexible, somewhat better able to manage changes, but still not easily. Even after the Barack Obama wins of 2008 and 2012 there’s still something of the defensive crouch, but only in part of the party. The Bernie Sanders campaign, and a movement (whether tightly or loosely organized over time) stand to move the party away from a defensive position, and put it more on offense for the first time in half a century. It is where the Democrats might have been a decade or more ago if it had taken some of the lessons movement Republican conservatives did way back when.

Or at least there’s the potential. 2016 seems to be a time of some philosophical crackup and realignment. It is one of those points when the tectonic plates stand to shift. Who will observe wisely, and who will be carried along? Who will be on defense, and who on offense?

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Some weeks ago I chatted with several leading Idaho Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton for president. Asked why they preferred the former secretary of state over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the core of the answer was that Sanders would be too risky a nominee.

Meaning: He’s viewed as a left-wing extremist, and the “socialist” label would be death in, at least, Idaho. Clinton, in relative terms, was the more centrist and therefore “safer” choice. So far as I can tell, this was the prevailing view across most of the Idaho Democratic leadership.

Nationally, the odds favor Clinton winning the nomination over Sanders. But in the light of last week’s caucuses let’s revisit the subject of Sanders and Idaho. In those meetings, where turnout busted historical records, Sanders demolished Clinton, with 78 percent of the vote (and he won every county save for the smallish Lewis). And the same day in Utah, which bears some demographic similarity to southern Idaho, Sanders did even better. That’s not the general electorate, of course, only participants in the Democratic meetings. But their unusually large size (for caucuses) coupled with the overwhelming result surely carries a message.

Many of the caucus meetings were much larger than expected, and many participants waited in long lines – four to five hours in Boise – to participate. The actual process often took more hours still, vastly unlike the normal duck-in-duck-out voting in primary and general elections. (A lot of Democrats have complained about the caucus procedures, which also excluded many who wanted to vote but, for illness, employment or other reasons, could not get to the sites on time.)

Consider too: These were public votes, not secret ballots. When Idaho Republicans cast ballots in their recent primary, no one ever saw who you supported. At the Democratic caucuses, you had to publicly endorse your candidate. If you were going to support that New York-accented Democratic socialist from Vermont, as nearly four out of five Idaho Democrats did, in the face of opposition not only from the majority Republicans in the county all around you but also most of the state’s Democratic leadership as well, you were doing it as publicly as if you’d taken out a display ad in the newspaper. More: You had to look those people in the eye.

That may not be so big a deal in Latah County or Blaine County, or in Boise. But think about those Democrats in Madison County – which has been called, with justification, the most Republican county in the nation – and in Cassia, Franklin, Lemhi, or Payette. The culture in these counties, in nearly all of Idaho, is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. Local Democrats most typically keep their heads down. But in significant numbers, in support of a candidate labeled as far-left and “socialist,” they were visible last week.

One astonished Magic Valley woman commented at her caucus, “Hey, 140 people in Jerome. I am not alone.” What they did took serious fortitude. (As it would if you were a Republican caucusing for, say, Ted Cruz in an overwhelming liberal Democratic locale.)

What does this imply for politics in Idaho and beyond?

Maybe, maybe, that something is changing in Idaho. It may indicate that there are plenty of Democratic sympathizers out there, unorganized (“unchurched”?) who have little in common with most of the state’s Democratic establishment. Many Idaho Democrats for years have tried to position themselves not to lose, or at least lose badly, and shaped their message to mesh at least partly with that of the Republicans. Maybe these Democrats out there, and possibly others as well, are signaling now they would be more responsive to something else.

After the caucuses, state Democratic Chair Bert Marley, a superdelegate to the national convention with an unbound vote, said he would vote there for Sanders. That may be a first step to one of the most useful things leading Idaho Democrats could do in the months ahead: Make contact with these super-determined caucus goers, and find out whats motivating them. In many respects these people seem to be the new majority among Democrats in Idaho, and maybe elsewhere.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Sitting here in Oregon, we can reasonably think: “Well, we don’t have to put up with that kind of garbage. We can vote by mail.”

Yeah, we can feel superior over this one, after watching the reports yesterday of long election lines and voting chaos in the primary contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho.

Arizona saw long lines to vote in its primary elections for both parties. Idaho saw long lines to vote in its Democratic caucuses (though there was the excuse that turnout was unusually heavy, which is a good thing). Utah had more of the same, and when it tried Internet voting ran into big snarls.

Utah, at least, was making an effort to make voting easier for voters, which ought to be object all over the place. Oregon really does make it almost as simple as it can be, allowing for essentially automatic registration – if you’re eligible, you’re likely registered in Oregon – and mail-in voting, which has worked smoothly for more than two decades. Total time in Oregon to cast a ballot is what it takes to mark the paper – a minute or two – and however much time you spend researching your choices.

As was widely noted on Twitter yesterday, you can order a pizza, shift funds around your bank account, and do much more these days instantly – but in too many places, voting means standing in lines.

And the caucus system is worst.

It’s not just the matter of having to spend hours to get your vote registered, and sometimes (as in some places in Idaho) long waits even to get inside the caucus room. It’s also the requirement that you physically be in a specific place at a specific time. Some people can’t do that. They may be working then. They may be sick. One of the lead writers at the national liberal blog Daily Kos, Joan McCarter, lives in Boise, and couldn’t cast her vote at the Idaho caucus because work required her to be out of town at the time. No absentee ballots for caucuses.

The caucuses still exist around the country in large part because the national parties like to have some assurance that just members of the party, and not others, are participating. But the assurances many states theoretically provide often are hollow. And the whole premise makes little sense in this country anyway, in a political system where two parties have an effective monopoly on political offices. I’ll say it here: Anyone ought to be able to participate in those primary selections (one or the other – make a choice) without declaring fealty to the party. To argue otherwise is to argue that the D and R parties are just the same as any other voluntary association group, instead of being the de facto joint ruling organizations of this country.

Which takes us off in a more long-winded, and farther-reaching, direction. But shorter term: Can’t we find better ways to let people cast their votes? It can be done. Oregon has.

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There’s a logic some political people embrace through the years that goes like this: When it comes to offices you’re highly unlikely to win, you’re better off if no one from your party files as a challenger for it. That way, you’ll be putting in fewer resources on loser races, and you can focus on the better prospects.

I’ve never bought it.

For one thing, a “placeholder” candidacy really doesn’t cost a lot more than the filing fee, and usually you can avoid that by collecting petition signatures – a good organizing tool in itself. For another, it demonstrates that members of that party really are around, a psychological lever. Even placeholders usually participate in debates and are profiled in news reports, good free media for the minority party. And placeholders tend to bring their own small group of supporters into the arena.

But among the various other reasons filling those slots is a good idea, there’s pre-eminently this: You never know what might happen to the majority party or its candidates in the months ahead.

What if, for example, the Larry Craig 2007 airport scandal, which surfaced in August that year, had surfaced instead in August (or later in) 2008? Before those reports, Craig would have been nearly unbeatable for re-election; afterward, with the right set of responses to the headlines, lightning might actually have struck for the Democrat. Or maybe not, but the possibility would have been real.

Idaho Democrats in recent years have had a tougher time filling major office ballot positions, and only days before the the filing deadline did party organizers produce candidates for the top three this year: Jerry Sturgill for the Senate (incumbent: Republican Mike Crapo), James Piotrowski for the first district House seat (incumbent: Republican Raul Labrador) and Jennifer Martinez for the second district (incumbent: Republican Mike Simpson). They seem to be good candidates, though by starting so late, they’re at a big disadvantage, and that only piles on top of other disadvantages facing all Democrats in recent years. Last cycle, Democrats produced candidates for major offices much earlier, and still generally lost in landslides.

They have to know, going in, that their odds are not good.

But Democrats were right to make the recruiting effort for these congressional level seats, and for many others at the legislative and other levels. The old caution that you never know what the months ahead might bring seems especially valid this year.

At this is written, businessman Donald Trump (who came in second place in the Idaho primary) looks most likely to become the Republican nominee for president. But will he? If he does, how do the more establishment or philosophically-oriented Republicans react – do they support him or, as some openly discuss, will they bolt and support an independent candidacy, or sit the race out? If Trump is denied the nomination, how do his supporters react?

Trump has built strong support within Republican-supporting ranks, but how will he be received in the general election voting population? (Probably a good deal differently.)

How will Idaho’s elected and party officials respond to a Trump candidacy, or the fallout from a battle over it? Almost none of Idaho’s elected officials have come out in public support of Trump, which may reflect what their constituents think. What will happen to Republican unity under those conditions?

Six months from now, how will people look at the two major parties – the same way they do today, or differently?

There are no easy answers. That’s why you’re wise to cover as many of the contingencies as you can.

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Sure does make a difference when the people you’re talking about are on your “team,” and when they’re not. Partly for this reason I’ve never much been a team-joiner (on more than an ad-hoc basis) and especially in politics, because the membership so often seems to impose a kind of willful blindness.

The national conservative intellectual crowd has for many a year made excuses and alliances, and general common cause, with rural low-income whites because (you always had to suspect) it got something out of it: Shared Republican votes. In this year, however, there’s been a splinter, a massive shift of those rural white votes away from the Republican mainstream and over toward Donald Trump.

And the conservative intellectual crew, most noticeably at te National Review, has been responding.

The NR’s Kevin Williamson has cut loose in a big way, in the most recent edition, at the complaints of the people in rust belt, Appalachian, small town and rural areas which have been abandoned by factories and others sources of economic growth, and have begun to discover that the GOP establishment hasn’t really had much in the way of solutions to offer them. Williamson wrote:

“It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.”

And he goes on: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. . . . The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

So much for the National Review‘s erstwhile allies: Communities that deserve to die and – since any kind of socialized held would be anathema to a movement conservative – people who ought to just go ahead and do likewise, because they deserve no better. They’re just mangy dogs who whelp children with no moral concern or conscience. Are they even human? Up for debate.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth in what he’s saying. There is. But it’s not the whole truth. And to argue (as he does) that political, corporate and other external forces haven’t done a massive share of damage to these places and people is simply ignorant. All those factories weren’t shuttered because the workers decided not to punch in.

Williamson was maybe the most blunt of a group of conservative writers starting down this path, but he is not alone. The turn to Trump has tuurned them off – no great surprise there, since they never really had much in common other than the line on the ballot.

Writer Matthew Yglesias, reflecting on this, pointed out that “these are essays making the case that suffering white working-class communities don’t deserve help of any kind. That’s a correct application of the strict principles of free market ideology, but it’s also a signpost of how American political discourse has changed since the end of the Cold War. If you said in 1966, or even 1986, “Well, strict application of free market principles implies the death of a huge number of traditional American communities and massive suffering among their working-class residents,” then elites — including conservative elites — would say to themselves, “Well, then, these people are going to stage a communist revolution.” . . . It was taken for granted that the governing class had an obligation — a practical one, if not a moral one — to actually make the system work for average people. Over the past 20 years, that idea has been increasingly abandoned on the American right. Donald Trump’s popularity and these pieces in National Review are the consequences of that shift.”

If that were all, the significance probably would be too small to bother with, at least beyond this year. But something has been unleashed here. People long thought to be tied down politically and philosophically are changing ground. And we may be only on the front end of that.

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