Idaho Gov Brad Little
CNN  — 

Idaho is not typically the sort of place where political disagreement runs rampant. It’s an overwhelmingly Republican state where the GOP controls all seven statewide offices, not to mention both US Senate seats and the two House districts.

And yet, there’s a major fight underway – over the state’s coronavirus response, no less! – between Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. The Idaho Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell reported last week that the two top Republican elected officials haven’t spoken to each other in three weeks, and that McGeachin has personally defied Little’s executive orders to control the spread of the coronavirus in the Gem State.

As Sewell wrote of McGeachin:
“She left the Legislature’s 2020 session early — the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate — to attend to her family business, a restaurant and pub in Idaho Falls. She has attended or supported rallies opposing Little’s stay-home order and has been urging him to let businesses re-open. She defied his state order earlier this month to attend an event at a North Idaho brewery that re-opened despite Little’s order.”

Which, whoa!

But, wait, there’s more! McGeachin also wrote an op-ed in the Statesman, which began: “As lieutenant governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor’s chair.” Uh, message received. And in case you somehow missed that shot at Little, well, then McGeachin made sure you wouldn’t miss this one: “I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans.”

What has Little done to provoke such a reaction from McGeachin? On first glance, not much. He issued a stay-at-home order for the state on March 25 and let it lapse on April 30. On that date, he unveiled a four-stage process to reopen the state, beginning with a first phase that allowed 90% of Idaho’s businesses to reopen.

Over this past weekend – perhaps due in part to McGeachin’s criticism – Little moved the state to the second stage of the reopening process and moved the reopening of bars up to stage 3 instead of stage 4.

“We are one of the first states to reopen our economy,” Little said.

Given all of that, it’s hard not to see the not-so-hidden hand of politics in all of this. Unlike most states, Idaho elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately – meaning that they don’t run as a ticket. That translates into less unity, with the governor and lieutenant governor operating less as a team at times than as potential future political rivals.

(Worth noting: That wasn’t the case for Little, who spent 10 years as the second-in-command to Gov. Butch Otter.)

What McGeachin appears to be doing, then, is positioning herself for at least the possibility of a challenge to Little when his term is up in 2022. As Lewiston Tribune columnist Marty Trillhaase wrote over the weekend:

“Whatever damage McGeachin has done to Little or to her state, she has benefited politically. McGeachin put herself first in line to challenge Little from the right in the 2022 GOP primary. Anyone else who wants that shot will have to get past her.”

That is correct. McGeachin has, with her open defiance of Little, effectively established herself as the champion of the Trump wing of the party while painting Little as part of the timid establishment. Which, honestly, is a very beneficial position for McGeachin if she wants to take Little on in a Republican primary in 2022.

This is the nature of single-party states in the era of Trump, of course. Ambitious lawmakers see waiting around for the governor (or a senator) to retire or be term-limited out of office as interminable – and decide that the best way to jump the line is to play the outsider renegade card a la the billionaire businessman in the White House.