‘We’re in a big mess’: Trump, Haley supporters turn out for presidential caucus in Boise

Standing in a line that wrapped around the Whittier Elementary School cafeteria near downtown Boise, registered Republicans waited to be let into the school’s gymnasium to vote for their next president. Red, white and blue balloons adorned the tables as voters mingled, some chatting with Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane.

Idaho Republicans turned out across the state to cast their votes Saturday in the GOP presidential caucus, with many raising concerns about the direction the country’s heading under Democratic President Joe Biden and calling for a change. They criticized Biden’s policies and said their biggest issues included immigration, the economy and the nation’s debt.

The roughly 90-minute caucus, run by the Idaho Republican Party, comes after lawmakers last year passed a bill that mistakenly eliminated the presidential primary and then failed to agree on how to reinstate the election. All other primaries will be held in May.

At Borah High School, a caucus site on the Boise Bench, the line to get into the building stretched toward the back of the parking lot as voters waited for the doors to open at noon. Some sported gear representing the candidates they supported, including hats for former President Donald Trump that read “the revenge tour.”

Supporters of Trump said they respected what he had accomplished in his first term in office and thought he was the only candidate who could address many of the concerns they had under Biden’s presidency.

“We’re in a big mess, a real big mess,” said Darwin Packard, waiting outside of Borah High to cast his vote. Packard told the Idaho Statesman he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Trump is “the only one that is qualified to bring us out of this mess,” he said.

Trump voters said they were specifically concerned about security at the southern U.S.-Mexico border. Since his 2016 campaign, Trump has made immigration one of his key talking points. Trump visited a Texas border town earlier this week, when he claimed the country was “being overrun by the Biden migrant crime,” according to the Washington Post. Multiple studies have found immigrants are less likely to have criminal convictions and become incarcerated than people born in the U.S.

Several supporters of Trump on Saturday had supported the former president in the previous two presidential elections. They said he was a strong commander-in-chief who had earned respect among international leaders.

“The other candidates may be highly qualified,” Mary Ellen Nourse, who ran against state Rep. Sue Chew in 2022, told the Statesman. “But right now, to me, we need someone who’s going to be able to step in and, from day 1, start turning things around.”

Trump’s legal battles didn’t deter some of his supporters, who said they were a result of targeted attacks against him. Trump is the first U.S. president to be accused of criminal charges and is facing 91 felonies across four states and multiple lawsuits. The charges center around his handling of classified documents and his actions around the 2020 election, when Trump claimed he won the election and alleged widespread voter fraud — leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But supporters of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, also a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said they believe she would be a better leader than Trump. Some called Trump a liar and a crook, despite supporting some of the former president’s policies.

Natalie Fleming, who previously ran in the 2022 primary for a U.S. Senate seat against Sen. Mike Crapo, said she supports Haley because she treats people with respect.

“As a Christian, I’m a very strong believer in compassion and respect and respect for people who disagree with you,” she told the Statesman. “Every time I see him speak, I see him telling us that our neighbors who disagree with us are the true enemy. And I can’t stomach that.”

Although Trump and Haley are the only two candidates on the ballot who are still in the race, some Republicans planned to use their vote to support their first choice candidates. A few people told the Statesman they plan to vote for Florida Gov. Rod DeSantis, who dropped out of the race in January and endorsed Trump. DeSantis supporters praised his track record in Florida.

A candidate will receive all 32 of Idaho’s delegates to send to the Republican National Convention if he or she gets a majority of the votes. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the delegates will be split up proportionally to the votes among candidates with over 15%. Results of the caucus are expected later Saturday afternoon.

The caucus sites also offered flyers from state and local Republican parties calling for donations to fight against ranked choice voting. Reclaim Idaho, an advocacy group, is leading an effort to bring a ballot initiative that would create an open primary system and allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference, an effort supporters say would curb partisanship.

Another flyer at a site warned that elections will be “stolen until we the people fix the problem.”

Trump, Haley send videos asking for votes

Ahead of the caucus, Trump and Haley submitted videos encouraging Idaho voters to choose them. The videos, which played in some caucus sites, were posted on the Idaho Republican caucus website.

In his nearly three-minute video, Trump went through many of his frequent talking points on the economy and the country’s borders. He went after Biden, calling him the “worst president in the history of our country” and said that under his leadership, the U.S. had become a “laughing stock all over the world.”

“Today you’re going to send a big signal to the entire world that this is your country, and it’s also Trump country,” he said in the video. “You’re going to send a message straight to crooked Joe Biden that we are coming like a freight train this Nov. 5.”

In Haley’s video, she spoke of her record as South Carolina governor and warned that Trump couldn’t win the general election. Haley served in Trump’s administration and voted for him twice.

“We can do better, but in order to do better, we’ve got to acknowledge some hard truths,” she said “The truth is, chaos follows him.”

At Whittier Elementary on Saturday, rows of chairs were set up in front of a large projector screen, where voters were told candidate videos would soon begin playing. After more than an hour, a small laptop played Trump’s brief speech that was turned to face the audience instead, with a microphone held up to the computer’s speakers.

When it was over, the handful of people who had stuck around clapped and cheered. When asked if they wanted to watch Haley’s video, they began to boo.