Donald Trump on Wednesday night announced his endorsement in the competitive Idaho Republican gubernatorial primary: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who’s made a name for herself as the state’s second-in-command by repeatedly sidling up to armed militia groups and staking a far-right claim in state politics.
“Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin has been a true supporter of MAGA since the very beginning,” Trump wrote of McGeachin, before bragging about his own election numbers in Idaho and then giving her his “Complete and Total Endorsement.”
Here’s why Trump’s endorsement of McGeachin is significant:
McGeachin’s ties to armed right-wingers go back years
In 2019, just a few weeks into her job as Idaho’s lieutenant governor, McGeachin sent a public sign of support to Todd Engel, who at that time was behind bars for his role in the 2014 standoff with federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Engle had been found guilty of obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion and sentenced to 14 years in prison. (His conviction was vacated last year.) During the standoff, Engel was armed with an AR-15 and positioned himself behind a concrete highway barrier, allegedly brandishing his firearm at law enforcement.
Posing for a photo with two men in orange prison jumpsuit costumes who were flashing the hand sign frequently used by people in the Three Percenter militia movement, McGeachin held her hands together in a heart shape. “Sending love to Todd Engel from the Idaho Capitol,” she wrote in a post on her Facebook page that included the photo.
At a campaign event last month, McGeachin indicated Engel was in attendance. She happily recalled the photo with Engel’s supporters.
“We have a free man in this room who was wrongfully incarcerated,” McGeachin said. “And, my first year as lieutenant governor, I was photographed taking a picture sending love, heart sign, to this man. But praise God, he’s a free man!’
She recited an oath with a militia group outside the Idaho statehouse
“Hallelujah!” McGeachin yelled after the crowd finished the oath.
The Real Three Percent of Idaho was founded by a participant in the Bundy standoff, Eric Parker, who himself attempted unsuccessfully to run for office last year, and who has been a consistent ally of McGeachin’s.
Parker is known by some as the “Bundy ranch sniper” for an iconic photo from the standoff, showing him laying on a highway overpass, with his rifle pointed through a gap in the concrete highway barrier, in the general direction of federal officers.
Parker has said he doesn’t agree with the “militia” label for his group, but their own branding focuses on guns and resisting government overreach. One recent video on the group’s YouTube page features a slideshow of guns in the front seats of vehicles, capped off by a clip of Parker giving a speech about COVID-19 vaccines: “We say, if you mandate injections into us, we might mandate some injections back into you, but ours come pretty fast.”
Even today, McGeachin’s ties to the Three Percenter group run deep
At the very start of her campaign for governor, McGeachin attended an event at which she was introduced by Parker, who spoke fondly of her earlier support for Todd Engel.
McGeachin, Parker recalled, had told him, “if I get in, you’re going to have a friend in the governor’s office.”
“We need to do everything we can to get her where she can do the most good for us,” Parker said of McGeachin. “It’s selfish.”
McGeachin has a habit of cartoonishly abusing her powers as temporary governor
The governor and lieutenant governor in Idaho are elected separately, and when the governor is not present in the state, the lieutenant fills in as top executive — a role McGeachin has used to its full potential, and beyond, in recent years.
Her 2019 oath recital with The Real Three Percent of Idaho was done as “your acting governor.”
And this year, on multiple occasions, she’s attempted to enforce her own political priorities as temporary governor — once claiming to ban COVID vaccine mandates and mandatory testing in the state, and on another occasion taking steps to activate the Idaho National Guard for a field trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.
On a recent trip out of state, Gov. Brad Little (R) simply failed to tell McGeachin that he was going anywhere. The Idaho Stateman’s editorial board asked, “Can you blame him?”
She spent months on an “indoctrination” task force as CRT hysteria gripped the GOP
This past spring, as the Republican Party’s culture war over “Critical Race Theory” — or, teaching about racism in schools — began to climax, McGeachin did two things: She announced a task force to address “indoctrination” in schools, and then announced a campaign for governor.
From the outset, the task force, the stated purpose of which was to “examine indoctrination in Idaho education and to protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism,” was weighed down by accusations that it was a campaign vehicle. Jason Knopp, then president-elect of the Idaho School Boards Association, resigned from the task force in a June letter noting the “lack of education professionals,” as well as McGeachin’s recently announced gubernatorial campaign.
“ISBA suddenly found itself as a party to a committee whose purpose seems to have more to do with partisan campaigning than it does with approaching a sensitive topic with respect, care, and the involvement of all voices at the table,” Knopp wrote.
More recently, McGeachin fought and lost a legal battle to keep records from the task force private. When she finally handed the documents over to news organizations, they found that an overwhelming majority of the public comments received by the task force were critical of its stated mission. “I am tired of you using your office to score political points that have no merit,” one frustrated commenter wrote to McGeachin.