One of the pleasurable aspects of my job – if you want to call this “work” – is that it never ends. I’m already starting to look at the next election as the dust settles from President-elect Donald Trump’s earthshaking victory.
No, not the presidential election in four years. But there is a race in two years that might be even bigger and better than this year’s presidential election, at least as far as the Gem State is concerned. I’m referring to the Republican primary race for governor, which could end up being one for the ages in Idaho politics.
Two of the candidates were fishing for support on election night at Boise’s Riverside Hotel, as excitement was building for the Trump tsunami. Former State Sen. Russ Fulcher, who ran a surprisingly close race for governor two years ago, had plenty of eats and treats for everybody and the room was packed. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the first to announce for the 2018 gubernatorial sweepstakes, was doing his share of meeting, greeting and media interviewing that night.
Congressman Raul Labrador, a potential candidate for Idaho’s top office, had a hotel suite, plenty of food and a fair number of people in the room. But he was there for a different reason – to celebrate his easy re-election victory in which he received 68 percent of the vote. That’s a nice number to have on his political resume if he chooses to run for governor. Heck, dogs named “Spot” can get almost 40 percent of the vote against a lightening-rod incumbent such as Labrador.
Trump’s victory was a cap to a perfect evening for Labrador. But if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, as pollsters and pundits were predicting, Labrador might have had a different perspective on election night. He probably couldn’t enter the governor’s race fast enough.
Labrador has seen six years of a Democratic president crashing and burning in failed efforts to work with a Republican Congress. Sure, Labrador has gained some national attention for himself during those six years – starting the conservative-based Freedom Caucus and engineering the ouster of former Speaker John Boehner. But a Clinton victory would have produced more of the same for Labrador and Republicans, making Washington a more dreadful place than it is in the congressman’s eyes.
Labrador may end up running for governor even with Trump in the White House. But don’t dismiss the possibility of him staying where he is for another term or two. In radio interviews conducted the day after the election, Labrador talked about a congressional agenda that is looking attractive, starting with the repeal of Obamacare. He sees a Republican caucus that is well poised for working on tax and immigration reform, two issues that are near and dear to him.
Eight years ago, President Obama entered office talking about “hope and change.” The Trump motto is “drain the swamp,” which is Labrador’s kind of slogan. That does not mean employing a typical liberal strategy of “making more laws,” Labrador says.
Labrador, who backed Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and later Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, was no fan of Trump during the primary season. But he gives Trump credit for taking on and beating the political establishment from both parties. Trump has said that the system in place has not worked, which essentially is what Labrador has been saying for years.
He’s also pleased about the prospects of a conservative Supreme Court. In an interview on KBOI radio in Boise, Labrador said, Supreme Court appointees can have an impact “not just for the next four years, but the next 40.”
So, political life is good for Labrador at the moment. But victories in presidential and congressional elections don’t last forever. Party control has the job security of National Football League coaches with losing records; Republicans and Democrats are replaceable. And congressional gridlock won’t go away just because Republicans are holding the “Trump” cards.
The drumbeat I keep hearing is that Labrador will get into the governor’s race at some point. But if the Trump presidency gets off to a good start, and Labrador sees a greater potential for the conservative agenda, then he might not be so quick to seek another office.
Labrador will be an interesting person to watch in the coming months.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.