Here, on Tuesday night and since, is a map to ponder: The Idaho split between counties whose Republicans voted for businessman Donald Trump and those who preferred Senator Ted Cruz.
I’ve been trying to align the collection of counties for either candidate with any other kind of lineup, and nothing obvious suggests itself. This may take a little creativity.
There were a dozen Trump counties, scooped out of the center of the state: from the north, Shoshone, Clearwater, Lewis, Idaho, Lemhi, Adams, Valley, Custer, Boise, Elmore, Blaine and Camas. They occupy roughly the geographic center of the state and its most lightly populated regions too; the state’s largest wilderness areas are there, but not one of the state’s 16 largest cities. (Mountain Home was the largest city in a county that went for Trump.)
But, although Cruz won all of the state’s larger cities, many of the state’s smallest, most sparsely populated and most rural counties, like Clark, Oneida, Owyhee, Lincoln, Butte and Adams, also were Cruz counties.
Analyses of counties that were more or less sparsely populated, or included more or fewer college graduates, didn’t seem to match closely with the county breakdowns.
The Trump counties included the state’s most Democratic county, Blaine, and one or two other relatively Democratic counties (Shoshone, Lewis), but Blaine Democrats are quite different from Shoshone Democrats (or those in most of the other counties). And most of these counties are as Republican as any in Idaho. Trump’s message on the economy and joblessness may have hit in some of these places, though, since counties like Adams, Clearwater and Shoshone have had especially consistent struggles with unemployment for a couple of decades.
The 32 Cruz counties occupy most of southern Idaho, including nearly all the areas touched by an interstate or near a regional center, and the north along Highway 95 and the Washington border from Lewiston to Canada. These regions, north and south, are very different kinds of areas.
The closest to uniformity was the fourth-place finish for Ohio Governor John Kasich in every county but Blaine – Idaho’s most Democratic.
The speculation that Mormons would tend to support Florida Senator Marco Rubio came to little, apart from the point that all of the counties where Rubio reached second place – like Bonneville, Bannock, Madison, Jefferson, Teton, and Oneida – were bunched in eastern Idaho, mostly in counties with a very strong LDS presence. Rubio’s stop in Idaho Falls, his one counterpart stop alongside Boise in the weekend before the election, was surely no accident. Nor were the endorsements from people either leading in (businessman Frank VanderSloot) or close to (Senator Jim Risch) the LDS community.
So why did Cruz prevail in those areas? The guess here is that last week was a bad news stretch for Rubio, and word spread that his chances of getting the nomination were crashing. That would have led to a choice between the ideological and church-oriented Cruz and the more free-form (and more secular) angry Trump. (Kasich, widely perceived – however inaccurately – as a moderate, likely wasn’t a serious factor.) In that framework, the choice for many Mormons probably would have become clear.
Looked at that way, from a social and organizational point of view, the map starts to make more sense. The areas with large conservative (but not party) organizations, and those including the larger church organizations, tend to match up well with the Cruz counties. The small town areas relatively out of the pull of regional centers tended to go for Trump.
What will be worth watching is this: Will different kind of political appeals, different kinds of politics and campaigning, start to matter in these two types of areas?