Humbling Humbug.

John Ellis
4 min readMay 19, 2022

1. Let’s talk about Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary in Idaho. Let’s begin with Politico’s “takeaway” from the results:

In Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s loss to Gov. Brad Little was an even more humbling defeat for the former president. Despite Trump’s endorsement. McGeachin lost the primary by a wide margin, marking the second consecutive week that a Trump-backed candidate for governor fell short. In Nebraska’s May 10 primary, Trump ally Charles Herbster finished second despite a Trump rally for him in the run-up to the election. (Source: politico.com)

Please. “An even more humbling defeat” was actually a smart tactical move on Trump’s part.

The first and most important thing to remember about Trump is that he has to get every vote he can get from every piece of his coalition. He lost the 2020 presidential election (nationally) by ~7 million votes. He lost the 2016 presidential election (nationally) by ~3 million votes. He carries unshakable negatives both as a former president and future presidential candidate. His campaign ginned up massive turnout in key states in the 2020 election and he still fell short in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.

He has no margin for error. And he collapses if the edgier elements of his “base” don’t vote. So, to borrow George Wallace’s memorable phrase: he has to “feed the dogs.” And the dogs in Idaho loved and love the way-right, the election-was-stolen, no-conspiracy-theory-is-too-crazy, hurray-for-January-6th Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin. In fact, dogs all across the Mountain Time Zone and the Midwest love Janice McGeachin. Most people in the East have never thought about her or even heard of her. But out there on the edges of right-wing politics, she is one of us.

And the thing about the dogs is, they’re connected. They’re connected via Facebook and Discord and Telegram and the dark web and all the other social media and messaging platforms. So everyone, regardless of what state they live in, knows what everyone else is up to; who is advancing the cause, who is shaking up the system, who is leading the fight.

Trump doesn’t care about Idaho. I’m not sure he could find it on a map. If the candidate he endorses in a statewide race there doesn’t win, it doesn’t matter. The state’s national politics don’t change, at all. Its Republican governor must still pay attention to the fact that Trump won it by 31 percentage points in 2020. That governor, Brad Little, is a MAGA man, whether he likes it or not.

Who serves as Idaho’s next governor was and is beside the point. The point of endorsing McGeachin was to signal to the dogs that Trump was and remains “one of them.” In so doing, Trump made sure, for the time being, that the dogs were well-fed and uninterested in really wild ideas, like supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis or Sen. Tom Cotton for president in 2024. Toward that end, the McGeachin endorsement worked out just fine.

The nation’s “mainstream media” might proclaim the primary outcome “an even more humbling defeat for the former president,” but that’s not the way the dogs saw it. The dogs saw the Big Dog doing the right thing.

2. And should you think “well, no one really believes the 2020 election was stolen, that’s just Trump being Trump,” consider the following:

All credible evidence tells us that the 2020 election was very secure. Experts on both sides of the political aisle, and even President Donald Trump’s own Justice Department, have confirmed that 2020 was a free and fair election. Even a Republican-sponsored audit of Arizona’s results found no evidence of fraud or malfeasance.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of Republican voters say they agree with Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen. In our most recent University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll, fielded online Dec. 14–20 by YouGov among a nationally representative sample of the U.S. voting-age population, only 21 percent of Republicans say Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate. This is nearly identical to what we found in our April poll, in which just 19 percent of Republicans said Biden was legitimately elected. Other universities, media outlets and polling firms have found nearly identical results.

There are a lot of dogs out there.

3. And speaking of stolen elections, let’s say for the sake of argument that David McCormick picks up just enough mail-in and absentee votes in the last innings of the vote count in Pennsylvania and emerges victorious, by a razor-thin margin, in the GOP US Senate primary election there. Pennsylvania state law requires a recount in an election so close. So there will be a recount.

The question is: Will Trump insert himself before, during or after the recount and say that the election was “stolen” from Dr. Oz?

He might!

On paper, it doesn’t make any sense. Recapturing control of the U.S. Senate is far more important than which candidate keeps the seat on the Republican side of the aisle. That certainly would be Sen. Mitch McConnell’s point of view.

But who knows with Trump? “Stop The Steal” has been the political fund-raising pitch of all time. Trump has raised well over $100 million proclaiming it (and other grievances) in countless direct mail and email solicitations. Why not refresh it, give it a new spin?

If that angers Mitch McConnell, so much the better. From Trump’s point of view, anything that creates turmoil in the ranks of the Republican Senate Caucus and gets a few more Senators thinking that maybe Sen. Rick Scott, just to pick a name out of the air, might be a better GOP Senate Leader, well………..why not?

Just because the national press corps and countless Republican office-holders and donors and operatives want Trump to go away, does not mean that the Idaho or Pennsylvania primary results can be accurately described as “humbling” for Trump. Pennsylvania saw the three leading candidates prostrate themselves before the altar of MAGA. Idaho reminded the edgier elements of Trump’s base, all across the country, that Trump was still their champion.

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John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.