How Brad Little supporters headed off a possible Trump endorsement of Raul Labrador

November 14, 2018

Idaho political circles are buzzing about an anecdote buried deep in an extensive New York Times article about how Republicans lost and Democrats won the U.S. House in last week’s election — because it’s about Idaho’s own 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador and Gov.-elect Brad Little.

Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns chronicled political chaos and missteps in the campaign on the Republican side, including directly from the White House. “Mr. Trump’s capricious approach to politics was destabilizing for Republicans up and down the ballot, leaving candidates exposed to the president’s whims and grievances and the machinations of White House advisers,” the Times reporters wrote.

“The president’s relative political inexperience also left him open to manipulation by aides and allies with agendas of their own,” the Times reported, citing a case in point: A group of lawmakers and White House aides were lobbying the president to endorse Labrador in the Idaho governor’s race, as he was locked in a three-way battle in the GOP primary with businessman Tommy Ahlquist and current Lt. Gov. Little, who ended up winning.

Little supporters “sprang into action,” the Times reported. They put together a video montage of the outspoken Labrador bluntly criticizing Trump, from telling News Radio 1310 KLIX in Twin Falls, “I’m very concerned about Donald Trump being the nominee,” to telling Meet the Press, “He over-hypes everything, he’ll over-hype his ties, he’ll over-hype his suits.”

Labrador was shown telling Boise’s KTVB Channel 7, “Every time somebody looks at his history he threatens to sue them — I just think, ‘Is that the kind of person that we want running the United States of America?’”

He was pictured on Idaho Public Television saying, “Not happy with the things that Trump has said or done, but unfortunately we have two people that are not great.”

And on MSNBC, endorsing Ted Cruz, Labrador was shown saying of Trump, “He’s a big whiner. … He doesn’t know how to negotiate, he doesn’t know how to hire the best people. He’s really not that smart.”

Those comments mostly came during the 2016 primary for president, when Labrador first supported Rand Paul, then backed Ted Cruz, who won in Idaho. However, Labrador later endorsed Trump and became one of the few sitting members of Congress to travel the country campaigning for Trump before the general election, stumping for Trump in Utah, Arizona and Florida.

The video went to the White House, the Times reported, and the Trump endorsement for Labrador was off. Then, the day after Idaho’s May primary, Trump called Little to congratulate him, and “unaware of the tape’s genesis, asked: ‘Did you see that video?’”

Little told the Idaho Press on Monday, “He did call me. And all that other stuff, I didn’t know much about.” Little said he’d seen part of the video when someone sent him a link. “Most of it was quite broadly known,” he said. “I didn’t know that it was necessarily a big epiphany.”

In remarks to the Idaho Republican Party convention in June of 2016, Labrador famously said Trump not only wasn’t his first choice, “Trump wasn’t even in my top 16” choices for president, but that he was now supporting him.

Little said his conversation with the president after the May Idaho primary lasted “three or four minutes,” and “we talked a little bit about health care. … It was mainly niceties to congratulate me on winning the primary.”

Little said he didn’t know which of his supporters were responsible for the video.

Martin, the national political correspondent for the Times, tweeted out a link to the video with this comment: “How did anti-Labrador Republicans keep Trump from endorsing him in the Idaho gov primary? They compiled a tape of his TV interviews attacking Trump in ’16, got it to the WH. Trump,who never knew where it came from, stayed out. We got our mitts on it.” Now anyone can watch it on YouTube.

College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi said, “It shows that Little understands politics — he’s not some naive person.” Little’s campaign backers, LiCalzi said, “didn’t just fall off the potato truck.”

“He’s really well tied in with the whole Republican establishment,” LiCalzi said. “They were all behind him, and they definitely didn’t want Labrador to win.”

“Brad Little, I think, comes across a little bit as, oh, he’s just a nice rancher, almost a naive guy, but he’s a tough politician, too,” LiCalzi said, noting that Little attacked Democratic rival Paulette Jordan in a negative TV ad in the fall campaign, and also went negative against his primary rivals. “I think it’s clear. He’s not somebody who’s going to just let someone run over him like that.”

Little, who was acting governor on Monday because Gov. Butch Otter was out of state, said, “We had great people, both volunteer and professional, supporting us. That’s what you do when you apply for one of these jobs, is you know, you hire good help, and they have to know what your issues are and we have to know what they are.”

Asked about LiCalzi’s comment that Little’s supporters “didn’t just fall off the potato truck,” Little said with a laugh, “That’s definitely a fair assessment.”

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