Dick Wadhams, chair of the Colorado Republican Party from 2007-2011 and I have never met. When I moved to Colorado, he was known as Colorado’s Karl Rove. That is to say, a cynical but effective operator, and he had the record to back it up. Wadhams also had a penchant for coining (or hijacking) insulting nicknames (i.e., “Boulder Liberal Mark Udall,” “Lawyer Lobbyist Tom Strickland” ) and working for racist candidates (i.e., former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who said a deplorable anti-Black racial slur to a newspaper editor, and former Gov. George Allen (R-VA) of “Macaca” infamy). Ironically, this makes old Dick quite a bit like the man he accuses of destroying nearly everything Wadhams built in Colorado over his career, one Donald J. Trump.
To be fair to Old Dick (for instance, repeating an insulting nickname, like “Old Dick,”), he publicly and regularly admonished Trump, not for his views or his policies, but for his behavior. Just this week on the excellent local podcast, City Cast Denver, he blamed Trump for bringing the Colorado Republican Party deep into the political wilderness, and said that he doesn’t really see a path back to electability for the Grand Old Party any time soon.
Wadhams said to Denver legend and City Cast host Bree Davies, “Let me stress, I voted for Trump twice. I like what he accomplished in terms of judicial nominations, tax cuts, border policies. I think what he did on COVID was amazing. I could go on, but having said that, his behavior after the 2020 presidential election in terms of immediately saying the election was stolen, and almost two years later there is no evidence of that, his behavior on January 6th which was reprehensible, he squandered all the good things I think he did as president, and I think Republicans have suffered greatly because of that behavior, and it has imposed a stench on the Republican Party and Republican candidates that really revealed itself this last election.”
Yes, Colorado voters find Donald Trump to be a reprehensible creature, in fact, Colorado Republicans used to as well. In 2016, Colorado’s delegates to the RNC staged a walkout in protest of Trump’s nomination. The state Republican Party’s official Twitter account allegedly accidentally tweeted “We did it. #NeverTrump” after Ted Fucking Cruz of All People swept the state’s 34 convention delegates.
Who sent that fateful tweet remains a still-unsolved mystery, despite the pledge from the state party to “investigate,” but the point remains, the party here has always had its fringe and its challenges, but the establishment used to be smart enough to find a way to at least make competitive elections actually competitive.
So, with the election for the new state GOP chair happening this Saturday, and with previous chairs having humiliated themselves (electorally in Kristi Burton Brown’s case and financially/illegally in Ryan Call’s case), what course will the new leadership in the Colorado Republican Party chart back to political relevance in the Centennial State? If Old Dick is to be believed, a pretty long one:
“These state chair candidates are oblivious to what the new reality is in Colorado…If we elect a state chairman who is talking about ‘well, Trump got screwed, well, actually he did win the election; it was stolen from him,’ and then they initiate a lawsuit to ban Unaffiliateds from voting in primaries, if that’s the Republican agenda, the new Republican chairman will drive the party deeper into oblivion.”
He continued, “I don’t think [Trump] will win the nomination, though he might. There’s no way I can see him winning a national election if he is the nominee, and he has essentially made the Republican party totally unacceptable in a state like Colorado to the Unaffiliateds who dominate here.”
So is Wadhams right that Trump looms so large in the minds of most Colorado voters that nothing any Republican consultant, candidate, or chair can do for the time being even really matters at all?
The outgoing chair, Kristi Burton Brown, who between her three or four ill-fated attempts to ban abortion in some way shape or form in Colorado and her absolutely apocalyptic performance as state party chair in the 2022 elections must be the most-losingest person in Colorado political history, actually recruited a mostly-decent field of top-ticket candidates. Furthermore, she seemed to have gotten nearly all of them onto what should have been a winning message in a midterm election with inflation at 8% and President Biden’s approval rating hovering near 40% statewide. The Big Lie bullshit probably would have done Heidi Ganahl in if Jared Polis’s stratospheric popularity did not, but Republican US Senate candidate Joe O’Dea appeared somewhat normal for most of the campaign, Barb Kirkmeyer ran a decent race until she looked directly at the camera and lied through her teeth, and despite Donald Trump existing, he didn’t get materially involved in any of the races here, save a mean “truth” or two about O’Dea near the end of the race. And yet, each of these candidates lost, and in Ganahl and O’Dea’s cases, they got absolutely fucking stomped.
There are seven people vying for what absolutely must be the worst job in Colorado politics, to lead the GOP through what will inevitably be another terrible election for Republicans in Colorado in 2024. Though the expectations are low, the stakes are high, and as the party becomes more irrelevant, they are slamming on the gas toward further irrelevancy.
It is hard to find a single one of these folks who could beat a rug with a stick, let alone bring this particular group of hopeless wackadoos into something resembling a functioning political operation.
There isn’t one candidate in this crowded field who has not endorsed the Big Lie at some point, the vast majority of them still do, and not a one of them seems capable of having a normal conversation with an average voter in Colorado.
Erik Aadland, the butt of the joke of the “Aanybody but Aadland” website, was a spectacular failure of a congressional candidate who spent almost a year lying about the best person on the planet earth and then proceeded to get his ass kicked by 15 points. Former State Rep. Dave “Let’s Go Brandon” Williams (R-CO Springs) spent all day on Wednesday missing the wildly, painfully obvious jokes about his “beard.“ More importantly, Williams failed to get his incredibly clever nickname to appear on the primary-election ballot before getting reflexively smoked by Colorado Springs Congressman Doug Lamborn.” Former Mesa County Clerk and current indictee Tina Peters, if elected, would most likely serve at least some of her term from a jail cell. Casper Stockham, who, despite somehow finding a way to lose in three separate congressional districts, hilariously runs a “candidate training program.” Aaron Wood was completely unheard of until he MC’d an event where Anil Mathai, a former Adams County GOP chair, stood on the flatbed of a pickup truck in a Boot Barn parking lot and screamed at the top of his lungs that the Republican Party is “full of whores” and “asswipes [that] can’t win a race.” Former State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who for a very long time was seen as one of the most extreme members of the Colorado Legislature, appears almost normal next to the other six of these folks, but he also literally appeared next to an actual neo-nazi wearing a Daily Stormer t-shirt.
The field is so bad that on Monday, five days before the vote, Kevin McCarney, the former Mesa County GOP Chair, jumped in too because, well, why the hell not? At least McCarney presents as normal on first glance, having actually asked Tina Peters to resign from the clerk’s office after it came to light that she was arrested for stealing election equipment from her own office to try to prove the Big Lie to the My Pillow Guy. But on second glance, he’s a trekkie who was a super, duper early supporter of Trump, so, you know, not exactly a breakout candidate.
Since I’m apparently in the business of agreeing with people with whom I share absolutely no values nor viewpoints, at least in this column, I’ll end with a quote from former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, one of the last Republicans to win a statewide election in Colorado before losing the race for party chair to Burton Brown in 2021. In The Colorado Sun’s excellent newsletter, of which I am a proud paid subscriber, Gessler declined to join the current GOP chair race before it got crowded, telling The Sun in a February text message, “Two years ago the window to run was open for me, but now it is closed. At least we got leadership that led Republicans to historical results!”
The word good ol’ Gessler was trying to use there was “historic,” but I digress, that’s a level of side-eye that would make Peppa Pig envious, so he gets a high five for trash talk, and, for once, he too, is telling the truth.
Ian Silverii is the founder of The Bighorn Company, a progressive political consulting firm, and the former director of ProgressNow Colorado. His wife is U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-CO).
CORRECTION: This column initially reported that Aaron Wood said that the Colorado Republican Party is “full of whores” and “asswipes [that] can’t win a race”. Anil Mathai actually made the comment.