Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Long Read: Mashed Potatoes

The GOP has everything they could possibly want in North Idaho: the Democratic party is non-existent here and there's nobody to challenge total Republican rule, it's 98% white and conservatives from all over the Western US have moved in, fleeing West coast blue state liberals.

Naturally it has degenerated into Lord of the Flies as they have completely turned on each other.

Brent Regan doesn’t work the room during the monthly meetings of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, because he doesn’t need to: People come to him, as if before a ruler, or a king. He has the confidence of a man who's rarely challenged but always has the upper hand when he is; he’s used to others agreeing that he’s the smartest person in the room. Over email — the only way he'll speak to reporters, after a history, he says, of being misquoted and misunderstood — the community college graduate and Mensa member wields his intellect combatively, like a tenured professor dressing down an unprepared freshman.

He frequently "rejects the premise" of a question and invokes everything from "Cartesian relativism" and "Greco-Roman philosophy" to the Magna Carta when asked to describe his political beliefs. "Your conclusions about conservatism remind me of the Indian fable about the blind men trying to describe an elephant," he told me.

It's this didactic tendency that has helped keep Regan, a man described as both the sugar daddy of the hard right and the godfather of North Idaho politics, from winning elected office. His only attempt — a run for school board trustee, back in 2014 — fell flat. But Regan doesn't want for power. According to those who’ve observed him closely, the loss, one of the few in a gilded life, taught him a lesson: He wasn’t a politician. He was a puppet master.

Many of the most powerful people in political history never held office. Instead, they had money, or they had strategy. Regan has both. As chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC), he oversees the political maneuvers of the only party that matters in the state’s third-largest county. He is the chairman of the board of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which grades state legislators on their votes and acts as a de facto conservative policing service. He’s an inventor. He’s very good at enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order. He’s a major donor to PACs that have worked, somewhat surreptitiously, to influence local elections.

“Brent Regan is a real patriot,” a member of the KCRCC told me. “That movie, The Patriot, Brent is like that Mel Gibson character to me. He’s got the IQ and the common sense — he’s the smartest man I’ve ever known.”

And like so many others currently involved in North Idaho politics, Regan’s a California transplant: one of thousands of ex–LAPD officers, doomsday preppers, “traditionalist” Catholics, and far-right evangelicals who’ve flocked to the white, conservative utopia of North Idaho over the last 20 years, working to remake the Republican Party in their own image. Before, they were called libertarians and constitutionalists, or called nothing at all, because there was no political group conservative enough to represent their beliefs. But after the 2008 election of President Obama, they emerged, consolidated power, and began operating under a simple principle: It’s easier to take over a political party than to start one of your own.

Under Regan, the KCRCC has tacked farther and farther to the right, creating a political platform unrecognizable to Republicans of the past. Over the last three months, they’ve issued resolutions condemning Idaho’s two conservative senators for voting to sanction Russia (the bill passed the Senate 98–2); suggested that GOP gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist is not, in fact, a Republican (like President Trump, Ahlquist, a Boise businessman, has donated to both Democrats and Republicans); and called for the repeal of the local urban renewal law, dubbing it the “economic equivalent of fascism” (it’s not). In short, they’ve redefined what it means to be an Idaho Republican, working to clean house, on both a local and state level, of those who oppose them.

Those opponents, however, aren’t Democrats — whose political clout in North Idaho is essentially nonexistent. They’re fellow Republicans, who’ve been primaried, peer-pressured, and otherwise pushed out of the party, dubbed RINOs (Republicans in name only), Dirty Liberals, and Socialists. Those in power argue that they’re simply exercising their right to participate in the democratic process. But for those who’ve been excised from the party they’ve long considered their political home, it’s an embarrassing travesty.

“Lincoln founded the party of the ‘big tent’ back in 1854,” one long-serving state senator, fed up with Regan’s machinations, told me. “Why can’t we still have that?” He was referring to the idea, later reinforced by Ronald Reagan, that the Republican Party contains multitudes, that the “divergence of views” is one of its greatest strengths.

In North Idaho, that tent has narrowed to an exclusive and exclusionary group of individuals who, according to those who’ve been subject to their strategy, demand absolute fealty. The alternative is rejection, formal or otherwise, from politics altogether. Still, Regan doesn’t see the current political situation as “ugly,” even if it is destructive. If he had to pick a word to describe North Idaho politics, it would be “dynamic”: “What would beautiful politics look like?” Regan asked me. “Would it even be politics? To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, politics is war by other means.”

In many ways, this is a story of what happens when a two-party system is reduced to one: when a political party becomes so dominant that, without outside opposition, it creates it internally. This particular version of the story is specific to North Idaho, and to the particular type of conservatives who have flocked here to set down roots in its rural soil. Yet its lessons apply across the political spectrum, as battles between the two parties are eclipsed by the destructive and deeply tribalist strife within them

In North Idaho, the liberals have already been wiped out, people of color are all but nonexistent here, so it comes down to "not being conservative enough" for each other.  They all want to be Idaho's Trump, they all want to rule, but only one can.

So the bloodletting begins.

It's the GOP returning to its fascist roots, pure and simple.

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