Last Wednesday, Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher:
l Soaked up the spotlight on “Fox and Friends,” describing how he planned to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s slate of electors later in the day.
l Followed through by helping to launch a vote to overturn Biden’s win.
l Went into “anger mode,” as he described it to the Lewiston Tribune’s William L. Spence, when a mob instigated by President Donald Trump and spurred on by the president’s two-month-long big lie about a stolen election stormed the Capitol, a melee that took five lives and shook the nation’s democratic foundations to the core.
l Returned to the House floor as if nothing had happened and tried to overturn Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Not that any of this is out of character. More than a year ago, he was among 30 Republicans who barged into a secure meeting room in violation of House rules and disrupted Defense Department official Laura Cooper’s closed-door deposition before three House committees investigating Trump’s shakedown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on Biden.
Just last month, he joined a majority of House Republicans by backing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s ploy to invalidate the legitimate election results in four battleground states and thereby give Trump the second term he did not win.
But here he was last week, telling Spence he had no intention of stealing an election.
“My objections were strictly based on the areas where states broke their own election laws,” he said. “The Constitution gives state legislatures the sole responsibility for setting election rules but (in 2020) there were at least six states where that didn’t occur, where the governor or the secretary of state or the courts made the changes.”
Make that seven.
Last spring, in the midst of the pandemic, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Gov. Brad Little transformed Idaho’s primary election into an all-absentee event — something they did on their own. By the way, Fulcher won renomination by nearly 80 percent over Nicholas Jones in that primary.
Have you ever heard him complain about the election in Idaho?
“I didn’t do what I did for a candidate,” Fulcher said. “I did what I could to help create an environment for a better voting system. That was my genuine intent.”
If you find that hard to swallow, join the club.
For one thing, Congress can’t change election laws in those six states. Only legislators and judges can do that.
What Congress can do is what Fulcher claimed he was not pursuing — overturning the election outcome.
Of course, he knew — like everyone else — that the Democratic majority in the House and enough Republicans in the Senate would never go along, preordaining defeat.
In short, he was playing politics.
Playing it safe.
Placating the Trumpian base at home while letting others — including every other Republican in the states of Idaho and Washington — take the hit by voting no.
No less than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned this idea: “I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.”
Absent the melee that Trump’s rabble caused at the Capitol that day, Fulcher’s calculation might have paid off. As long as he didn’t mind fomenting even more chaos across the land, he could have ridden out the clock on Trump’s term without being forced to distance himself from the president. He could have appeased that portion of the GOP primary vote at home that will tolerate no independence from Trump right up until the end — and then move on.
Now he has reaped the whirlwind of the riot that his president and his own actions fueled.
Fulcher finds himself among a group of politicians — Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. — who are deservedly reviled for their behavior. He is isolated from his fellow Republicans in Idaho and Washington.
What have we learned about Russ Fulcher this month?
Certainly that he went to Washington, D.C., with his views fixed and unwilling to accept what new information his senses are feeding him.
That Fulcher is a follower. He follows his right wing colleagues in the House. He follows the talking heads on Fox News. He follows his political base at home.
A leader would have told voters the truth they did not want to hear — that the election was fairly won by Joe Biden.
That would be the right thing to do.
But Fulcher was willing to pay any price — including enveloping himself in infamy — to avoid doing anything of the sort. — M.T.