What the hell is going on in Idaho?
While the governor was out of town, the lieutenant governor made a play for his job.
Insurrections, autogolpes, and shameless power grabs seem to be all the rage in the post-Donald Trump GOP these days. While the former president prattles on about “stolen election” this, and “great patriots” that, the governor and lieutenant governor of Idaho are locked in a bizarre battle for control of their state that seems less like the actions of responsible elected officials and more like a petty tit-for-tat squabble between dysfunctional siblings. Only, in this case, they’re not arguing over what to watch on TV, but rather over who controls the state’s military might, among other deeply concerning issues.
On Tuesday evening, Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) released a terse statement vowing to rescind and reverse “any actions taken by the lieutenant governor” when he returns from a trip to Texas on Wednesday evening. Little’s public admonishment of his No. 2, fellow Republican Janice McGeachin, followed a string of moves by McGeaching seemingly designed to capitalize on the governor’s absence, including a request by McGeachin to dispatch Idaho National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and a separate order barring vaccine mandates in the state’s schools and universities.
McGeachin’s attempt to literally muster the troops was ultimately rebuffed (“I am unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact [EMAC] from Texas or Arizona,” Major General Michael J. Garshak explained in a letter obtained by the Associated Press), but the one-two punch of attempting to activate her state’s military and issue executive orders during the actual governor’s absence was not only enough to expose the schisms between her and Little, but also to highlight Idaho’s deeply ambiguous constitutional remedy for these types of situations. Because while McGeachin was technically correct in her assertion that Little’s absence effectively placed her in charge, neither of her two actions seem to have actually been constitutional in the first place.
Constitutionality aside, however, it’s worth taking a step back and seeing this whole bizarre kerfuffle for what it really is: a tale of dueling grandstanders. On one hand we have the governor, Little, visiting Texas to discuss President Biden’s border policy, despite the fact that Idaho is more than a thousand miles away. On the other, we have the lieutenant governor, McGeachin, capitalizing on Little’s wholly superficial field trip to make her own power play ahead of her 2022 run for his job. Put another way: This whole thing can be seen as Idaho’s two most powerful politicians using their respective offices to one-up each other on the “who can be the toughest tough-guy” scale, without any real regard for what their respective policies or actions really mean.
It’s all theater and optics and deeply, deeply stupid. In other words: Welcome to the GOP in the year 2021.