Colorado Republicans are standing chest-deep in blue water that crashed here in November.
They’re soaking wet, the water isn’t receding, and they’re frustrated, trying to figure out what went wrong, so they can dry out and win again in their lifetimes.
But pretty much all they’re talking about is changing their campaign tactics. More digital ads. Fewer mailers. Better mailers! More money.
GOP operative Mark Hillman, a former Colorado Treasurer, wants Republican donors to pony up big bucks like progressive groups allegedly get.
Former State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) wants fellow Republicans to stop spending money on certain failed political consultants–and instead spend their money on other failed political consultants. Former State House Speaker Frank McNulty has the same idea, but he’s likely thinking of the opposite consultants.
State GOP chair candidate Ken Buck wants to identify more Republican voters and increase turnout.
What they’re not talking about are the issues.
Aren’t Colorado Republicans going to have to change substantively to make more people like them? Specifically, to get more love from Unaffiliated voters, whose support they must have to win in Colorado?
Yes, say moderate Republicans I spoke with, on and off the record, over the past week.
“No Soul Searching”
“There is no soul searching, or at least no thinking along the lines of, ‘You know what? We are going to make a concerted effort to have, perhaps, a different approach to presenting what Republicans would do and what they fight against and stand for,’” said David Flaherty, founder of Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling and political consulting firm.
For Faherty and others like him, the GOP needs to address “bread and butter issues” that are of concern to Unaffiliated voters, who represent about a third of Colorado voters and broke heavily to the Democrats last year.
“It’s math,” he says. “For us to win elections, we need to have a broader and different approach to issues that we want to solve.”
But he sees little desire among Colorado Republicans to “understand what Unaffiliated voters care about, what their problems are, what they want from their elected officials in Colorado, and then speaking to those concerns. I have yet to see that.”
“And for conservative members, that’s the last thing they want to speak to, including Minority Leader [Patrick] Neville. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with that.”
“I see rank-and-file Republican Party members, elected officials, and other people thinking that it’s still 2010, and all we need to do is have a little bit of overreach [from Democrats] and we are back in business,” said Flaherty. “And if you look at the numbers and do the math, you realize that is not the case. That’s what our research has found.”
Flaherty is adamant that Colorado Republicans need to move off guns and immigration and show how they can get more money into classrooms and, most importantly, lower the cost of healthcare.
“We see the Democrat majority coming out with multiple plans to address rising healthcare costs,” he said. “Voters love plans. Voters love ideas. Republicans have not put forth a plan or an idea at all. Walker Stapleton had no plan, whatsoever. The one he tried to put forth was not clear.”
“The bottom line is, Republicans have failed at demonstrating, ‘I want to lower your costs,’ rather than being against everything the Democrats are proposing.”
Businessman and former lawmaker Victor Mitchell thinks both political parties are extreme, and the Democrats are now the party of socialism, but Trump’s presidency is a dagger for Republicans.
“We had every one of the candidates on the Republican ticket last year, 100 percent, embrace Trump,” said Mitchell, who ran for governor last year. “They were all Trumpers. Every last one of them. And that’s a loser. And it’s never even talked about. You listen to talk radio, they say they didn’t endorse Trump enough.”
“I personally think the Republicans, at least until Trump is gone, have really no future,” said Mitchell. “I’m not sure they have a future after Trump is gone. And I am benefiting from Trump’s policies, most specifically his tax policy. We have a very very successful family business, and we qualify for some of the tax breaks in the new tax bill. Financially, he should get credit for the tax bill, but it’s still not worth it to me to have a president who’s stupid and corrupt.”
Failed Soul Searchers of 2012
After Republicans lost big in 2012, Republican political operatives Josh Penry and Rob Witwer got a lot of attention for a Denver Post opinion piece arguing that the Republican Party had “sullied its brand,” and unless that changes, the GOP is unlikely to win a competitive statewide race in Colorado for the foreseeable future.”
“We’ve seen the arc of the immigration debate, and through our own personal experiences, we’ve also seen that it must now be resolved at all costs,” they wrote. “This is a human issue, with moral (and biblical) implications. It’s time to bury the hatchet and forge bipartisan agreement on immigration reform.
It’s also time to approach cultural issues like gay marriage and abortion with humility, humanity and common sense. How can we expect unaffiliated voters to support a Republican Party that compromises on stop-gap budget measures that kick the can of impending fiscal ruin down the road, but will not even entertain reasoned dissent on social issues?
…Every year, we kick somebody else off the island. We make it easy for Democrats to say that we don’t want the support of women, Hispanics, teachers, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, conservationists, Muslims and union members. Pretty soon there won’t be anybody left to vote for us.”
It appears that things haven’t changed much since 2012, as many Republicans hold these exact sentiments today.
Spotlighting the point, in January, Witwer himself has left the Republican Party.
Bleak Future for Colo Republicans?
The situation appears to spell long-term doom, say moderate Republicans in Colorado.
“I have no problem saying we are well on our way to becoming a regional party in the state of Colorado,” said Flaherty. “And I question when we are ever going to be competitive again at the statewide level as the voter registration changes continue to go against the Republican Party and more in favor of the Unaffiliated voter.”
“We don’t see it turning around,” he said, “Or an effort by anyone to really turn it around. It will only happen if we have our own candidates who decide to jump in the arena and do the hard work of running—and running on issues that are more relevant to Unaffiliated voters. And until that happens, whether it’s at the top of the ticket or in a house district, or even city council, the party won’t change and it will be a minority party that’s concentrated on the eastern plains the Western Slope, the down in Colorado Springs. And even there, the exact same number of Unaffiliated voters are active in Colorado Springs as Republicans.
“It’s all melting. Our advantages are eroding and accelerating even in our strongholds.”