Is there ever a doubt how former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig votes in presidential elections?
He was part of the “Reagan Revolution” that took over the White House in 1980, gained control of the Senate and made substantial gains in the House of Representatives, where Craig landed that year as a young congressman. And he has enthusiastically backed GOP candidates for president.
But this year was not a normal year for politics. Sen. Mike Crapo temporarily pulled his endorsement of now President-elect Donald Trump three weeks before the election, and Congressman Mike Simpson dismissed Trump as unfit for the presidency. Some members of Craig’s family were cringing over some of the campaign remarks made by Trump, especially about women. Craig himself was quick to acknowledge Trump’s “locker room” talk as unacceptable.
So, after Craig cast his ballot days before the General Election, he told his family members that he did not vote for Donald Trump.
“I voted for the Supreme Court,” he said.
Craig could have said just as easily, “I voted for the National Rifle Association.” He has been a board member of the organization since his early years and a champion of Second Amendment rights.
In either case, that meant voting for Trump, but Craig wasn’t thinking so much about the candidate. “The alternative, from the NRA’s standpoint (Hillary Clinton), was so unacceptable, there was no place else to go,” Craig told me.
The last time the question was presented to the court – whether American citizens had a right to own firearms – one vote made the difference. “That was Justice Scalia, and he’s gone,” Craig said. “It was significantly clear that Hillary would appoint justices who would interpret the Constitution in a different way.”
Craig’s concern about the high court goes beyond the NRA. “I have 12 grandbabies. I want them to grow up in a more centrist-conservative world similar to the America I grew up in. While that world may have had some injustices, it had more justices.”
To the NRA, and Craig personally, the battle lines were drawn in this election. At stake was the fundamental right of self-protection. “In Hillary Clinton’s world, you can always call 911 if somebody were to break in your house,” Craig said. “But how fast can you dial a phone, and how long can you wait for a response at the point of a gun?”
Throughout the campaign, and especially in the closing weeks, the NRA worked frantically to identify voters. “It was the largest get-out-to-vote effort that the NRA has ever done,” Craig said.
The NRA website was full of red meat for its supporters, branding Clinton as an enemy on guns and the gun lobby.
“In Donald Trump, we have a candidate, I would argue, that’s the most forceful Republican nominee for president in the last 100 years when it comes to not only gun ownership, but the lawful use of guns for self-defense,” said Chris Cox, head of the NRA’s lobbying arm. “He’s pointed out a very different path forward on guns than Hillary Clinton.
The NRA has plenty of political muscle and, as Craig says, can make a difference of up to five percentage points in any election. In Idaho, given people’s passion for guns, it wouldn’t be surprising if the percentage was 10 percent or higher.
“We have more state offices and operations than the Republican National Committee did,” Craig says.
NBC’s Chuck Todd said on election night, “Donald Trump didn’t get a lot of help from major Republican institutions but did from the NRA, and they came through big. This is a big night for the NRA.”
Trump’s election victory marks the dawn of a new era in American politics, along with a major boost for the NRA. Since the election, he has softened his stands on Obamacare and building a wall along the Mexican border – and the NRA doesn’t blink an eye over those changes. But what matters to the gun lobby, Craig, and a good number of Idahoans is that Trump stands firm on his commitment to appoint justices who are committed to protecting Second Amendment rights.
Trump is no fool. The NRA, with Craig’s encouragement, was one of the early organizations endorsing Trump and may have been the “secret vote” that he predicted would lead him to victory. Trump, who has a track record of rewarding loyalty, is not likely to forget what the NRA did for him.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.