President Trump is historically unpopular across the nation — even though it might not feel that way in North Idaho.
In fact, comparing how he did in the election last November with an approval ratings poll done by Gallup and SurveyMonkey last week, Trump has lost ground in all 50 states.
Amazingly, the president is even crashing in Idaho, his third-worst state in terms of lost approval since the election.
Trump carried Idaho over Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points, but in this latest poll, his approval rate was down 23 points to just plus-9. That’s three-quarters of his hefty margin gone in roughly nine months.
Now, it’s a fact of politics that polls can be wrong — anybody remember what happened last November? — and Trump’s approval was at its peak when it mattered. Never mind that Clinton was and is massively unpopular, so Trump might very well might beat her again tomorrow if they re-ran the election.
But Trump’s disapproval numbers are stunning, and when combined with even more dismal numbers for Congress, Democrats suddenly are having dreams of retaking the House (and maybe even the Senate) in November 2018.
The Dems are feeling a wonderful breeze at their backs just now, which brings up a rather strange question: Where have they gone in Idaho?
No Democrats have filed to run for governor, or for the open House seat being vacated by Rep. Raul Labrador.
Nothing’s happening locally, either.
Do you remember last spring, when newcomer Teuvo Orjala rounded up local progressives — the loud and passionate “Indivisibles” — to protest Trump’s first few months in office and his refusal to disclose his income tax returns?
“It’s amazing to see this,” Kootenai County Democratic Chair Paula Neils said on the day Democrats and Independents packed the Community Room downstairs at the Coeur d’Alene Library, with seats full and audience members lining the walls.
“What I really wish is that when the time comes, all these people will still care like this for an election, and they’ll get out and knock on doors.”
Neils feels much the same today.
She’s pleased to note those diving approval ratings for President Trump. But as much as anyone in the county, Neils knows what sort of ground Democrats would have to make up just to be competitive in, say, races for the Idaho Legislature.
“When you’re losing and only getting numbers like 22 percent of the vote,” she said, “you can’t seriously be thinking of turning things upside down in one cycle.
“We need to be thinking of one seat at a time, one election at a time. That’s how conservatives got to this position of strength like they did, with a long, tough slog.
“Besides next year, we need to be thinking of 10 years from now, and changing the culture of this region and the state as a whole.”
But where are the candidates?
Every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs in ’18, and so far, Democrats have been deadly silent in expressing any interest.
At least to this point.
“I wouldn’t read much into that,” said Juliette Carlisle, associate professor of political science at the University of Idaho. “Everyone is caught up in these two high-profile Republican primary races, for governor and for the 1st District Congressional seat.
“They’ve been running ads for months, and we see stories and public appearances by candidates every week. These races are what’s different from a normal election — several big-name candidates campaigning hard, and doing it so far ahead of time.”
“Believe me, we’ll field a very solid slate of candidates at the proper time,” she said.
Jeremy Gugino, communication volunteer for the joint-Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus, suggested the party would announce candidates for statewide offices around November, and wait until January or February for regional contests.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s fine if the Republicans want to beat each other to death with so much time to go,” Gugino said. “And remember that they’re spending a lot of money. Let them go ahead and have at it.”
Although Gugino was referring to the two glamour races, he couldn’t have been seriously thinking a Democrat might capitalize on all this internal fighting among Republicans to steal one of those positions, could he?
“That’s not likely at all,” said Carlisle. “Idaho just isn’t very competitive right now. Despite what’s happening nationally, and the fact that we might be seeing a memorable political moment, it really won’t have an impact here.
“Trump is still popular in Idaho, our senators (Mike Crapo and Jim Risch) both have giant approval numbers, and Rep. Labrador got 68 percent of the vote in his last general election race.
“There might be some real momentum for Democrats nationally if things continue the way they have been, but I can’t see it making a difference in Idaho, except...”
Yes, except in local battles where a few hundred votes can matter, and where a surprising turnout of younger voters might put a Democrat into office.
“That’s where it could happen,” Carlisle said. “Pick a district that isn’t overwhelmingly conservative, get a good candidate and run against a Republican who didn’t win by too much the last time.
“Add a little bit of that national tailwind, and sure, in those races it could be possible.”
Neils thinks District 4 — essentially the city of Coeur d’Alene — could be competitive, especially if Democrats can turn out the vote.
“Republicans are comfortable and not worried at all,” she said. “So if we can get people out of their chairs and actually see them involved, we can make a start in turning things around.
“But it’s the same story: We have to knock on doors, and we have to reach Independents and anyone who will listen. It’s still an uphill fight.”
One problem is finding candidates who can fire up the Democratic base.
“We have lots of good people,” Neils said, “but you have to convince them to run, especially with such a recent a record of losses. The numbers are there to see. They don’t want to spend the time and money for a lost cause.
“We need to convince our best candidates to go for it, and then get everyone to pitch in.”
Orjala didn’t respond to interview requests for this story, but Neils believes he wasn’t just a one-issue magician.
“Teuvo is a Democratic precinct captain, so his success can be more than the Indivisibles. He’ll be working hard, and it was good that there were a lot of Democrats in that group — some that we hadn’t seen in a while.
“The question is whether all that excitement and momentum will carry over to next November.”
In the meantime, Democrats will watch some prime-time Republicans hammering away at each other, all of them certain the May primary will clinch a spot in office.
“That’s OK,” Gugino said. “We’re not worried about that, and honestly, we’re not all that fired up about Trump’s problems. We can’t run against him, anyway.
“The Democratic Party in Idaho needs to run on a message, and that message has to be education. It’s a mess in this state, and the only money Republicans have put into it, they did out of shame.
“The key to the future, to jobs, to a better workforce, to better wages and rising up from being a very poor state is down to education — and that’s what we have to sell, in races at every level.”
That very well might be what dozens of Democratic candidates will be pitching in various battles sometime early next year.
Assuming, of course, that some candidates actually do step forward to carry the banner.
“We’ll be there, and we’ll be working,” Neils said. “It won’t be easy, but I don’t think anyone expects that it will be.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction in Jeremy Gugino’s title.