Fear and Loathing, 2016 Version

By Chris Carlson

He is one of the top behind-the-scenes political operatives in Idaho. Rarely does he say anything on the record, preferring to stay behind the scenes, quietly, efficiently and effectively going about his business whether successfully running statewide campaigns (he’s never lost any race he has managed) or representing clients with interests across Idaho.

Though not in his class in terms of experience and numbers, we are two old war horses who have come to respect each other’s acumen and insights. As a life-long Republican, he cares deeply for the party and its conservative approach to addressing the world’s challenges. We may disagree about approach, but have never been disagreeable with each other. We have too much respect for the state we love, its people we have both served and the great future we think it has.

As political practitioners, we know neither of us has a monopoly on truth. And we both believe politics is the art of compromise with relationships of respect and regard across the aisle being critical to progress. We both deplore the paralysis that harsh partisanship has brought to our nation’ capitol, especially as we see cities and states all across the nation still working well.

Neither of us Idaho natives has ever seen a presidential year like this. Both of us did time inside the Beltway and we both recognize the insidious way it often distorts what is happening beyond the Beltway. Both of us feel lucky to have escaped D.C. and both of us have helped decent men succeed as good representatives of the people of Idaho’s best interests.

He sees the party of Lincoln, the great unifer, becoming a party of hard divisions and watch with fascination as Donald Trump hijacks it. He recognizes the fears Trump is channeling and understands the deep disappointment that many conservatives have when so-called conservatives get to D.C. and are absorbed and rapidly defanged.

He recognizes that there’s some validity to Trump’s argument that he is attracting new voters to the Republican party, but really wonders how Republican they may be in the long run. He finds it odd that many are buying Trump’s perverse logic (my phrase, not his) that because he’s been on the inside and profited from being there, that now, as an outsider, he better knows how to take the insiders down.

He does credit Trump with successfully convincing many that he is a doer, a builder, one with a track record of getting things done. He also thinks the so-called Republican “establishment” waited too long before recognizing the potential threat Trump may be to Republican prospects for taking the White House.

He feels former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney virtually guaranteed a backlash from Trump supporters, and probably generated an opposite reaction to what he intended, by waiting so long to speak out against Trump.

He personally voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Idaho’s primary. Even a “business Democrat” like me shares the feeling that Kasich is the class act of the entire field, and the best qualified under the old rules to be the next president.

As my friend says, though, Kasich is viewed as too establishment in the new environment. My friend knows that no Republican has ever been elected president without taking Ohio, and presidential electoral calculus also dictates that the Republicans take Florida and Virginia as well.

He laughs though as he recalls being a Naval aviator at Pensacola, Florida, in 1964. Everyone was just sure that Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was going to be elected president. Though some pundits see Republicans losing with Trump in a slaughter similar to 1964, my friend recognizes the lack of enthusiasm on the part of many Democrats for Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee. Thus, my friend does not concede an inevitable loss.

Nor does he see the demise of the Grand Old Party. He’s been around long enough to know there’s a dynamic political pendulum at work in the body politic that swings from right to left. It always self-corrects though, and will do so again. And, of course, even if Trump is the Republican nominee, which appears more and more likely, he will carry Idaho and the Republic will survive.

As with my old boss, former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, so it is with my friend. I learned long ago never to make a wager on anything political with either of them.

A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus.