The 2016 presidential race is right around the corner. The Iowa caucus is set for Feb. 1, 2016. That is but 5 months away. The New Hampshire primary will be on Feb. 9.
Idaho’s own early presidential primary is set for March 8, 2016, roughly six months away. Given the vast number of candidates, the unsettled nature of the GOP nomination, and Idaho’s Republican tilt, one would expect a host of Republican candidates to now be visiting Idaho and building strong local organizations.
Yet, the Republican presidential candidates have been strangely quiet in Idaho.
To his credit, Sen. Marco Rubio has been in Idaho Falls twice, once to speak to Melaleuca employees in April, and in June to attend the Idaho GOP summer central committee meeting. I am unaware of any other significant public visits by other candidates.
That is why the choice of guest speakers at the annual Region 7 Republican Party Barbecue in Idaho Falls on Aug. 27 is . . . interesting.
The annual Upper Valley GOP barbecue is a longstanding tradition. Begun in the 1970s by revered former State Republican Chair Dennis Olsen (before he ascended to that position), the event has drawn a wide array of speakers, including national figures like Alexander Haig and Art Linkletter. Often, the attendance has been significant (and the food, particularly the pork, is great!).
In a year where the national Republican race is wide open and Idaho will host one of the earlier primaries, one would think that the local GOP could attract two or three top tier candidates or at least their surrogates.
Instead, the primary speaker this year is Senator Rand Paul, who is currently the 7th ranked GOP candidate in Real Clear Politics average, trailing former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and barely nudging ahead of Senator Ted Cruz.
And, Paul’s once promising star is likely to fade even further. A Politico story last week (read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/rand-paul-2016-downward-spiral-gop-campaign-120716.html#ixzz3hPG78zRr) led with the following: “Rand Paul, once seen as a top-tier contender, finds his presidential hopes fading fast as he grapples with deep fundraising and organizational problems that have left his campaign badly hobbled.” The story pictures a candidate more concerned about flight schedules than fundraising, and considerable campaign inner turmoil.
Yet, Paul is the designated lead speaker at the Upper Valley GOP barbecue. Why not a Trump, Walker or Bush or even a collection of presidential candidates who would likely be drawn to a significant Idaho GOP event less than six months before Idaho’s early primary? It is hard to believe that an official request would have not generated a flutter of interest, not a platform for an also-ran.
What is even more puzzling is the fringe speakers who will share the podium with Senator Paul, in particular, New Zealand blogger Trevor Loudon and Utah author Connor Boyack.
Mr. Loudon is the author of the 2013 book: THE ENEMIES WITHIN: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the U.S. Congress. He claims that certain members of Congress “couldn’t pass a basic security clearance to clean a toilet at any military base, and neither could your president” and that “Americans deserve to know the traitors they have in their government.” He is a self-professed follower of the Zenith Applied Philosophy (ZAP) which is New Zealand group that mixes Scientology, Eastern mysticism and the beliefs of the U.S.-based John Birch Society.
Connor Boyack is a Utah Libertarian and a 2012 Ron Paul supporter who was a fierce opponent of local favorite Mitt Romney, claiming just before the 2012 general election that “[t]he real reason why Ron Paul supporters aren’t lining up to help ‘defeat Obama’ by voting for Romney is that they see little substantive difference between the two.”
But Boyack’s most controversial comments are reserved for Abraham Lincoln. He wrote a column some years back noting: “Abraham Lincoln stands in my mind as the worst president of ‘The United States’, for the simple reason that his actions are still adversely felt today (well, by anybody who understands our history and pays attention to current politics). Other Presidents’ actions have faded into the history books, whereas those committed by Lincoln in the name of the Union’s preservation exist in our day as the solidified foundation of federal tyranny and centralized governmental omnipotence.”
This rather strange mix of speakers may reflect the individual preferences of a select group of local Republicans. But, at the very least, it appears that the organizers of this event are willing to avoid leveraging Idaho’s potential role in the selection of the Republican candidate for President. That is a missed opportunity.
It was not so long ago that Idaho played a more significant role in determining the GOP nominee.
Ronald Reagan had extensive Idaho backing when he challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976. In his 1980 run, he had the backing of the entire Idaho GOP congressional delegation, party activists and fundraisers, and returned the favor by visiting Idaho to elect and bolster Sen. Steve Symms in 1980 and 1986.
The first President Bush had strong Idaho ties in his 1988 and 1992 runs.
Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012 corralled a deep bench of Idaho support. Early on, Gov. Otter, Sen. Risch and Rep. Simpson backed him. And, one of his biggest financial supporters was Idaho Falls businessman Frank Vandersloot.
While the Upper Valley GOP event may be a lost opportunity, hopefully, other Idaho Republicans will try to leverage our early primary to draw candidates into Idaho to make their case to Idaho voters. Such visits are a great chance to highlight local issues, attract media attention and, hopefully, build a strong relationship with a potential President.