Littwin: Colorado Republicans won’t stand for success
Fair and Unbalanced
In November, as you may remember, Cory Gardner not only won a seat in the U.S. Senate, but in the process, he also gifted future Republican candidates with the Cory Gardner Model for How Conservatives Can Appear Just Moderate Enough to Win in Swing States.
It was genius, we were advised. And on election night, you could hear the applause in GOP circles across the land. Now Gardner — a rising Republican star with very white teeth — is already a staple on the national TV news circuit, sharing with everyone his technique in how not to answer direct questions directly while, at the same time, making it appear as if non-answers are the most direct form of communication. I like to call it doing a Cory. And boy did he do one on Mark Udall.
And it is genius, of a kind.
Surprisingly, the applause has not been unanimous. There are apparently doubters. And you’ll never guess where to find them, although, it turns out, you don’t have to travel far.
So here it goes. The first state in which a large section of Republicans has soundly rejected the Cory Gardner Model is … Colorado.
Let me say that again, because it’s just that hard to believe. The first group of Republicans to put a halt to the Cory Colorado love train is from right here, where the affection for Gardner, while genuine, apparently goes only so far.
Which is how three short months after Gardner beat Udall, Colorado Republicans go all March Madness, tossing Gardner and the Model aside as if he were just one more Big 12 team waiting to be upset.
It’s the old story, in which those in the base are convinced that the road to victory runs through them. This happens in both parties, as Democrats have shown repeatedly over the years. But who could have believed it could have happened so quickly to Republicans in Colorado, and in such an obvious not-Gardner way?
I mean, Gardner played the conservative-with-a-human-face role to the hilt. You win in Colorado by claiming the center, even if you intend to go nowhere near it. Or have you heard anything about an over-the-counter birth-control bill?
Did we not learn anything? (Rhetorical question. Of course we did not learn anything.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed the story. It was masked by a contest for the GOP party chair, which is not exactly a sexy contest, even when Dick Wadhams is involved. In this one, Ryan Call, the two-termer, was being challenged by Steve House, last seen as a long-shot candidate for governor. It didn’t make much sense since Call was chairman when Republicans finally broke through in Colorado, winning Gardner’s Senate seat — the first top-of-the-ballot Republican win here since 2004 — winning control of the state Senate, winning seats in the House, winning down-ticket races, winning the Coffman-Romanoff congressional standoff.
It was the first sign of light for Republicans in recent memory, and so of course, Republicans decided to replace their party chairman. It seems that Cynthia Coffman, now the attorney general, was upset that Call didn’t spend more money on the attorney general’s race but instead concentrated on trying to get Bob Beauprez elected governor. If Beauprez had won — and who knew he’d have a chance? — it would have been a small miracle and Call wouldn’t have had to worry about being re-elected so much as being canonized.
Coffman recruited House in the chairman’s race and set herself up against Gardner who decided to rescue Call. And so the battle began. But it wasn’t just Coffman who was upset. There were the Tancredistas, who are, of course, always upset. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who ran for governor in the GOP primary against Beauprez, believes he was stabbed in the back by Chris Christie and the rest of the Republican establishment. And he’s right. They knew that if Tancredo won the primary, he would not only get smashed by John Hickenlooper, but he also would take votes from Gardner.
Everyone knew that, including Call, who seemed to take the whole don’t-be-Tancredo business seriously. Call takes a lot of stuff seriously, maybe even himself, which didn’t necessarily help him. There was grumbling about bidding for the 2016 Republican convention and grumbling about setting up what turned into a controversial party PAC.
And so, in a split party, Call lost. And Gardner, who determinedly supported him, lost. And while there were no guarantees for Call, it is much harder to account for Gardner. How did he win the election but lose the revolution?
The funny thing is that House is hardly a revolutionary, just your normal conservative Republican businessman. But look at who won the vice chair’s job — Derrick Wilburn, a talk-radio veteran who definitely talks the talk-radio talk. And I hope you saw conservative state Sen. Ted Harvey, in the day’s comic relief, trying to declare himself the party’s executive director. Let’s just say there won’t be a unity coalition here any time soon.
For that matter, just look at the state Senate, where Republicans, with their one-vote margin, have dominated legislative-session headlines by firing one wide-of-the-mark shot after another in the state’s culture wars. Is that the way for Republicans to win in Colorado in 2016?
I’d ask Gardner, except I know what he’d say even after his little intra-party embarrassment. He’d smile and tell me, “Mike, there are no Colorado culture wars.”
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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