Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan is staking out a wide array of positions, but downplaying the one that might attract the most attention — her opposition to Pres. Trump.
Over the last two weeks Trump blundered around the world stage, dishing U.S. friends in Europe, plunging America into a trade war and conducting a widely-panned, obsequious meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
News broke last week that his former attorney has a tape of the two discussing payments to quiet revelation of yet another alleged Trump affair. Some polling (most prominently Rasmussen) indicates Trump’s approval numbers are diving again.
Yet, Jordan — rather than pouncing — merely told an audience in Ketchum last week this: “Every day I wake up and read the news and see a president and his base that continues to harm, not only our land and our wildlife, but our children and our elderly.” Awfully mild and hardly cutting.
Why isn’t Jordan swinging for the fences, running as the clear anti-Trump candidate? Particularly when Trump is off balance. That is a question worth exploring.
Her progressive base is rabidly anti-Trump and would love her to dish out the anti-Trump red meat. They hate Trump and would love a candidate who rips him apart. So why the reticence on Paulette Jordan’s part?
The reason is likely that she understands that Idaho, despite the president’s recent escapades, is still a strongly Republican state. Idaho’s last Democratic governor was Cecil Andrus, elected in 1990. Idaho hasn’t elected a Democratic U.S. senator since Frank Church pulled off that feat in 1974. The last Democratic U.S. representative from Idaho was Walt Minnick who was booted by Raul Labrador nearly a decade ago. Idaho’s legislative seats and county offices are overwhelmingly in the hands of the GOP.
Idaho Republicans — while many have qualms about personality —mostly appreciate the policy direction made possible by holding the White House. Attacking Trump could have the impact of pushing GOP members more strongly to Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s camp.
And Trump, while polling weakly nationally, does much better overall in Idaho. Idaho Politics Weekly surveys have consistently shown Trump’s approval rating above 50% in the Gem State. Over the past two years state-by-state polling has shown Idaho in the top 20% of states for Trump approval. His numbers are not close to those achieved by Reagan or the Bushes, but are relatively strong.
Jordan also has another risk. She is already labeled as a progressive and is trying to put distance between herself and progressive champion Bernie Sanders.
She emphasizes her ownership and use of firearms. Knowing Idaho’s conservative nature, she has focused on her deep Idaho family roots (she descends from prominent Native American chiefs) and trumpeted the link between land stewardship and economic development. Yet, she supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Idaho Republicans will undoubtedly push the “Jordan is a flaming liberal” angle, emphasizing her legislative record and national progressive supporters.
Still, if Trump continues to stumble, the temptation for Jordan to swing at him will grow. Special Counsel Bob Mueller will probably next indict those in or around the Trump campaign with ties to Russian actors. Inflation is rising and the trade wars will bite. It is possible (but not likely) that the economy will weaken before November. Heaven knows who Trump will insult next via Twitter.
But, Jordan probably should continue her measured tone on Trump. Attacking him will reinforce the partisan divide which, in Idaho, will hurt her as a Democrat.
Winning campaigns are all about discipline. So far, Paulette Jordan has shown considerable focus. If she swings at Trump hard, her supporters will be thrilled, but her path to victory — already a long shot— will narrow.