How Risch 

The enemy of my friend is my campaign strategy

10/17/07: Just one more thing about Larry Craig. I'm so sorry. It was not my intention to talk about him again. I don't even want to listen to anyone else talk about him again. I'm sick of talking about, hearing about, even sick of thinking about Larry Craig. But then—even though I was trying hard to avoid it—I thought of something else. And you know me. Anytime I think of something else, you're likely to hear about it.

It came to me during the Matt Lauer interview as Larry was telling how painful it was to have the man he was supporting for president (Mitt Romney) chuck him like a maggoty fish head when the news from Minnesota broke. "He not only threw me under the bus, he backed up and ran over me again," Craig lamented, in referring to the speed with which Romney flushed him from the organization. Gad, Romney didn't even give Larry enough time to zip up a decent denial before wiping the poor sap off his wingtips like ... like ... OK, dammit! ... like a wad of wet toilet paper. (Again, I apologize. But when the similes are making themselves up, a writer has no choice but to go with the flow. You can see that, can't you?)

But I got to wondering: Out of all the fellas running for the Republican nomination, why do you suppose Craig had decided Mitt was such an exemplary figure that he felt compelled to not merely support the man from Massachusetts, but to be the co-chairman of Romney's election efforts here in Idaho—thereby making himself the state's most visible Romney booster—in the first place?

I mean ... why not Giuliani? Rudy has a tendency to buck the prevailing wind on many standard Republican issues like abortion and, ahem, gay rights. But on the other hand, he—by his own evaluation—is one tough mama-jama when it comes to defending America from attack. So what's more important to Idaho's senior senator: national security, or ... er ... well, whatever it is Romney's supposed to be good at.

Why not McCain? These two Western senators have served side by side for almost 20 years, so are they not the best of buds by now? They also seem to line up like two ferrets in one sock on the immigration issue, on the war, on gun rights ... so what's the deal? Is there something about McCain's military service that makes Larry uncomfortable?

Or Fred Thompson? Really, if one 6-foot-something stiff can't support another 6-foot-something stiff, who the hell can a 6-foot-something stiff count on?

Then it hit me. Senator Craig—who, at the time he announced his eager support of the first LDS-ist to take a serious stab at the presidency, had not yet announced whether he was running again for another Senate term—definitely intended to run again for another Senate term. Get it? It's not like anyone outside of Idaho gave a hoot who Craig supported, right? (And remember, I'm talking here about the pre-"I am not gay" Larry, not the post-"I am not gay" Larry.) For allegedly being the fourth most powerful Republican in the Senate, he was remarkably invisible to the outside world. At least, until August.

But inside the state, what could a candidate who was already in some doo-doo over his, ahem, wide stance on immigration do to tighten his incumbency's screw on Idaho? Who, Larry must have thought (though possibly not in these exact words), is the most dependably ovine voting bloc in Idaho ... the demographic I can turn to for unquestioning support, especially now that I've alienated the xenophobes and the White Guy Fruit Pickers Association? Think about it ... think about it ... ah, got it! The Mormons! With a newly discovered adoration of Mitt Romney, I will put them in my pocket, like so many after-dinner mints. And with the Mormons solidly on my side, I will fear no primary challengers.

Idle speculation? Of course it is. Especially since Craig has, by now, wrapped any chances he had of winning another term in an air-tight bag along with some rocks for weight, and dropped them into the River of No Return.

11/26/07: Everything you have read thus far in this column was written over five weeks ago, shortly after the Lauer interview with Ma 'n' Pa Craig. But I never finished it. Once I'd written out my revelation, I took stock of what I had and thought, "So what?" It's not like everyone doesn't already know that most politicians are shameless suck-ups, especially when it comes to large monolithic religious constituencies. "And besides," I reminded myself, "why risk pissing off the Mormons by calling them 'dependably ovine' and 'unquestioning'?"

Then why bring it up again, you ask, just when the H.M.S. Larry is so near to sailing off the edge of the map, never again to create another ripple on Idaho's placid surface. Because, fellow Idahoans, new developments have given (what I interpreted as) Craig's suck-uppery of Idaho's Mormon voters a new wrinkle. Before we get into that, though, I have a question for you. Let's say you had a friend. You and he had known one another for years, even decades. Every time you showed up in public together (which was approximately every time either one of you was up for re-election), you patted one another on the back and sang each other's praises. From all appearances, you were BFFs. Special Idaho buddies.

Then some other guy from far away (say ... from Utah, or maybe Massachusetts) comes into the picture and treats your good ol' special Idaho buddy like so much icky. This other guy (whom you barely know, even though you agreed to co-chair his local campaign efforts) throws your long-time pal (incidentally, the other co-chair) under the bus (in your pal's own words), then backs up and runs over him again. Your pal! Your special Idaho buddy!

So your friend is ruined, the back-stabbing stranger gets away with it, and now it's your move. Whatcha gonna do? What's the right thing to do?

Or ... you could do what Jim Risch did. You could ally yourself with the back-stabbing stranger. You could take over as the sole chairman of the back-stabbing stranger's campaign. You could ignore the back-stabbing stranger's rapid-response betrayal of your friend and suck shamelessly up to the most dependably ovine voting bloc in the state because you're now campaigning for your old pal's position.

But, hey, I assume I'm presenting these options to a reasonably honorable individual who holds the virtues of friendship and personal loyalty above the slime of opportunism and pandering, so I'm confident you would never, ever do what Jim Risch did.

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