Trump has Idaho pols dancing with the stars

February 8, 2018 GMT

It wasn’t long ago when Congressman Mike Simpson was declaring Donald Trump “unfit” for the presidency and Sen. Mike Crapo was throwing Trump under the bus for that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced a few weeks before the election.

Now, they are supporting President Trump as if their political lives depend on it — because it does. The same goes for Sen. Jim Risch, who actively worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the ’16 campaign. Supporting Trump’s agenda, and the Republican cause in general, could put all three on career paths to the stars — which is a nicer option than political obscurity.

More about that later.

It’s amazing to see what a difference a year makes, and what one well-timed State of the Union message will do to the political morale. Suddenly, this presidency does not revolve around insulting tweets and empty defenses against obstruction of justice and collusion with Russians. Trump has given Republicans some badly needed rallying points for this year’s mid-term elections.

For now, they can set aside those drafts for concession speeches.

As the national media reminds us, Trump made a few factual slips along the way, which is normal in almost any State of the Union address. But in politics, perception is reality, and Trump is seeing some lofty reviews for his performance. The president also has Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation eating out of his hands.

Simpson heaped praise on the president for signing “the largest tax reform policy in more than three decades” and for addressing “our massive infrastructure needs. … I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the administration to address the most pressing issues our nation faces.”

Hmmm. Maybe Trump is fit for the presidency after all?

Crapo did more than simply respond to Trump’s address. He submitted a lengthy op-ed commentary, saying the president has “outlined an optimistic and ambitious agenda” that builds on the success of the tax reform package.

Simpson and Crapo aren’t the only Republicans who have had to eat crow in the last year. Maybe the bird tastes pretty good with ketchup and a sprinkling of salt.

Risch, in his response, rattled off a list of Trump’s accomplishments in his first year. They include, “historic tax reform, unprecedented deregulation, job creation, repeal of a significant portion of Obamacare, reform of the Veterans Administration, degradation of ISIS territory and strength, record breaking realignment of the federal judiciary … and the list goes on.”

Labrador, who campaigned for Trump in 2016 and is now running for governor, has no need to think about his future in Washington — a place he openly despises. But he realized, long before anyone else in the congressional delegation, that supporting Trump was good politics. The Gem State is one place where Trump has high approval ratings.

Says Labrador, “After a very successful first year in office, President Trump showed tonight that he remains committed to changing the way Washington works.”

Tommy Ahlquist, a Boise developer who strongly opposed Trump two years ago, is the latest entry in the crow-eating contest. “Tonight is proof of what can be accomplished by a political outsider to shake up the status quo and bring a fresh approach and new ideas,” he said. “Congratulations, Mr. President.”

Ahlquist could have added, “May I kiss your ring?”

For Crapo, Risch and Simpson, the stakes this year are about as high as they get. Crapo chairs the Senate banking committee, which is a nice plum for Idaho and a magnet for campaign contributions. He definitely wants to stay there. Risch is in line to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will be vacated by the retirement of Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Simpson has expressed interest in the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee, after New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced he would not seek re-election. For Simpson, the chairmanship would be huge for Idaho — while marking the pinnacle of his political career.

But those good things for Idaho’s delegation can happen if — and only if — the GOP maintains majorities in the House and Senate. If Democrats win, then it all goes away. So it stands to reason that Republicans have a better shot by rallying behind the president, opposed to finding ways to run him out of office.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com. This column originally appeared on idahopoliticsweekly.com.