Robert Ehlert: Labrador part of new GOP faction

August 18, 2013 

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, speaks Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Meridian.

ROBERT EHLERT — rehlert@idahostatesman.com

Raul Labrador began the previous week on Monday fueling speculation about his political future when he announced before the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board that on Wednesday, Aug. 14, he would declare his election intentions at a news conference.

And not until.

For months, the two-term Republican congressman from Idaho's 1st District had allowed speculation that he would challenge Gov. Butch Otter in next May's primary. The prospect of the Young Gun challenging the Seasoned Cowboy had been a delicious topic for pundits that got even spicier in those 48 hours before Labrador's announcement.

Even though most concluded Labrador was not prepared financially or organizationally to take on Otter, they also know that he is unpredictable and unafraid of mounting a dark horse if necessary.

Before Wednesday, some would say the smart money was on Labrador sticking with Congress, where his star is rising - especially among the Young Gun caucus in the House, where he and like-minded newcomer colleagues such as Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., are blazing libertarian-laced trails and bathing in the camera lights of talk shows. Insurgent Republicans always draw a larger audience than mainstream elephants.

On Wednesday the smart money on Labrador keeping his focus on Congress won out — big. His angle to the media was that he had unfinished business in Congress: immigration reform, deficit reduction, scuttling Obamacare and keeping the pressure on President Obama — not to mention continuing to launch barbs against some of his moderate/establishment Republican colleagues. He wants nothing to do with the Patriot Act and any other form of National Security Agency/FBI snooping that targets law-abiding Americans.

The other attractive thing about staying in Congress is being a part of, and participating in, what could be shaping up as a Changing of the Guard in the House. Besides the very young and brash Amash, Labrador shares common "Throw The Old Guard Out" ideology with Reps. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Tom Graves of Georgia and Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Labrador, 45, would be among the elder statesman in this mostly baby-faced group.

Labrador has quietly disagreed with, but not outwardly criticized, House Speaker John Boehner — in fact, he complimented him recently. Labrador's pal Amash sort of outed Labrador by voting for the junior Idaho congressman for speaker in lieu of Boehner back in January as the 113th Congress got underway.

Earlier this month, Amash, Massie and Labrador were among a panel addressing the libertarian-leaning Young Americans for Liberty at George Mason University — a Beltway gathering of fresh young Republicans like those Labrador recently brought to his staff. The moderator asked: "What is the difference between you Republicans up here (on the panel) and sort of the old guard establishment?"

Without hesitation and with perfect timing, Amash quipped: "Everything!" Labrador was seen to laugh so hard, his head tilted back.

At our Editorial Board and at his own town hall meeting in Meridian on Wednesday, Labrador agreed that a larger number of "civil libertarians" are gaining traction in the House.

"There are quite a few of us conservatives now with libertarian leanings, and I actually think that is the future of the Republican Party," Labrador said.

Labrador referenced being a part of "the Reagan kids," people who learned their conservatism at the feet of Ronald Reagan during a time when conservatives didn't have a hair trigger on military intervention.

"You see people like (Sen.) John McCain — you look at him the wrong way and he's ready to go to war."

Labrador said he and his Young (Holstered) Gun colleagues "want a strong nation that uses that strength in a very humble way."

And one more thing.

At the town hall meeting, Labrador let it be known that during his news conference earlier that day, he had considered pulling a prank by first announcing that he would be a candidate for president, but he decided against it.

Though that was a joke never told on Aug. 14, 2013, who would be surprised to hear Labrador say those exact words in earnest on some future date?

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6219, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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