In convention dominated by fear, control and cruelty, extremists take over Idaho GOP

Republican delegates gather in an auditorium at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls for the GOP State Convention on Friday, July 15, 2022. Delegates supported a proposed rule change that would block voters who recently supported non-Republicans from joining the party. (Ryan Suppe)

The most extreme elements of the Republican Party are fully in control after its convention in Twin Falls.

The new chair — outgoing Rep. Dorothy Moon, who lost her bid for secretary of state in May — is closely tied to the John Birch Society, which was famously kicked out of the conservative movement in the 1950s, when it asserted that former general and President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. And this is not some tangential connection: Moon’s husband, Darr, is on the John Birch Society’s national council.

Moon built her entire campaign for secretary of state on a Bircher-style conspiracy theory — Donald Trump’s Big Lie — so you can expect that she will become that lie’s chief public expositor for the next several years. That Bircherite paranoia was also on display with continued efforts to make it easier to disqualify voters in the Republican primaries.

But that’s not the worst of it.

If the new GOP leadership were simply crazy, that wouldn’t be the biggest change in the world. After all, the party’s current platform holds that you shouldn’t be allowed to vote in U.S. Senate races.

But the new GOP has signaled it also intends to be cruel. “Our guns are loaded,” Moon cried in her victory speech.

She also trotted out an old Republican trope that the party was “ready to keep this state free,” as if some effort was afoot to make Idaho not free.

As the Idaho Capital Sun reported, the party rejected efforts to express support for an exception in Idaho’s abortion ban for cases where the mother may die without one. The Idaho GOP’s values? Let her die.

Such cruelty is now integral to the party.

That cruelty was on vivid display at the Twin Falls convention. Someone — and certainly many people in the party know who did this, but they are either cowards or complicit, so the person responsible has not been identified — made up flyers for an event hosted for Tom Luna supporters and distributed them at a local homeless shelter.

Luna, the outgoing chair, showed grace and fed those who came hungry. But the cruelty of sending people to an event where they were not expected, of using them as pawns in a silly stunt, demonstrates a total lack of moral substance.

It was utterly shameful.

But acts like this aren’t too surprising, since many of the party’s new leadership have shown themselves to be personally cruel in the past.

Moon is a chief example. She stood as a character witness for former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who raped a 19-year-old legislative intern. She also attempted to smear the intern’s character, saying she saw the intern flirting with von Ehlinger. He is scheduled to be sentenced later this month, and he faces up to life in prison.

A Moon ally, outgoing Rep. Priscilla Giddings — who lost her bid for lieutenant governor to Scott Bedke — distributed a blog post with the intern’s name, photograph and information about her family. When it was Giddings’ turn to be formally censured by the House, Moon was among those who opposed it.

Moon, the rapist’s steadfast defender, will now lead the state’s dominant party.

And she’s hardly the only member of party leadership with a history of moral lapses.

Maria Nate, now the party’s secretary, has demonstrated a comparable lack of moral fiber. Nate pilfered private emails from her late mother — Sheila Olsen, the wife of former party Chairman Dennis Olsen — to turn them into fodder for attack mailers aimed at lieutenant governor candidate Steve Yates.

Olsen was admired by everyone who knew her, and that act likely cost her husband, outgoing Rep. Ron Nate, the 2018 election, despite her tearful pleas on conservative talk radio not to hold her husband responsible for her misdeeds.

Here we have the leaders of Idaho’s dominant political party. It is not likely a party that many of Idaho’s best Republican lawmakers of recent years — people like Maxine Bell, Bart Davis, Brent Hill, Shawn Keough and the like — would recognize.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members Johanna Jones, Maryanne Jordan and Ben Ysursa.