The Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR) held its annual retreat this weekend at the Broadmoor Hotel, the historic Colorado Springs hotel, resort, and conference center owned by billionaire conservative activist Phil Anschutz. LPR, Colorado’s premiere conservative political training program, is known for its long list of notable alums actively engaged in Colorado politics, media, and education policy, and for its far-right speakers.

Last year’s retreat speakers included husband and wife podcasters Patrick Courrielche and Adryana Cortez, hosts of “Red Pilled America”, which calls itself “a weekly dose of the truth.” The show uses an antisemitic dog whistle in its tagline, promising to “tell the tales Hollywood and the Globalists don’t want you to hear.” Episodes soft pedal conspiracy theories including election denialism and anti-vaccine propaganda, while others offer fawning profiles of alt-right personalities including Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posibiec and pedophilia apologist Milo Yiannopoulos.

LPR retreat attendees watch a promotional video featuring board member Danny Moore

This year’s slate of speakers marked a shift back to the center-right, featuring conservative journalists and libertarian academics who offered a conservative critique of how America’s political polarization is impacting the Republican party.

“We live in a moment right now where everybody prefers to engage in these big cultural fights,” said LPR favorite Kim Strassel, the Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member who has promoted her share of conspiracy theories, including one which was debunked by her own outlet’s reporters just hours after she published it. “Have you noticed that in D.C. everyone wants to have a fight? Democrats want to talk about abortion. Republicans want to talk about woke agenda, want to talk about transgender athletes and school curriculums and corporate social engineering. And I think all of those are incredibly important issues. All right. And so we all should take a stand on them and we should care about them. Let me also be clear — they’re kind of lazy issues too, because they don’t require policy solutions. You’re either for something or you’re against something. And I would also note that it’s one of those things, too, where when I look at that and I’m a person who believes in free markets, I believe in free people and I believe in states rights. A lot of these issues we are talking about, as important as they are, they’re not debates to be having in Washington.”

Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus penned an open letter to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), threatening a potential government shutdown over funding for gender-affirming care, diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, and abortion.

Strassel said Republicans seeking to settle political scores against Democrats are part of the problem. “The reality is, that kind of retribution, it takes a lot of time,” she said. “So much time, in fact, that this House GOP has passed but one bill of substance this year, which was the debt ceiling agreement that we passed all the way back in May. That took about four months for them to pull together. Here’s what they haven’t done. They have not passed eight of the spending bills necessary to keep this government running. They have not passed — in fact it collapsed again this week — a reauthorization reform of section 702, surveillance powers. They haven’t addressed the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. They haven’t put together a new farm bill. And that’s before you think about the fact that no one has addressed things like offering free-market health care, or education reform, or corporate tax policy.”

The battles in Washington are representative of the ongoing battle within the Republican party, from county chapters to the Republican National Committee, between “establishment” Republicans and an energetic, vocal wave of “grassroots” conservatives. In Colorado that has played out in the local El Paso County Republican Party, once the flagship party for Colorado Republicans, which has lost ground in the state legislature and the Colorado Springs mayoral race amid ongoing disputes between the county party leadership and more moderate Republican candidates. In recent years the party has been hemorrhaging incumbents, with former Reps. Tim Geitner and Shane Sandridge stepping away from politics, and this year Rep. Don Wilson, who was initially appointed to fill Geitner’s seat, announced he will not seek reelection, instead focusing on the El Paso County Commissioner’s race.

At the state level, former Colorado Rep. Dave Williams, an election denier and perennial culture warrior, is overseeing — and competing in — an election cycle with no congressional incumbents. U.S. Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO), beleaguered by death threats and an eviction notice following the contentious House Speaker vote, and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who has been regularly attacked by Williams, both announced their retirement.

Byron York, a contributor for the Anschutz-owned Washington Examiner, described the ongoing battle between populists and elites within the Republican party going back to the first Obama campaign. “The cracks in the foundation of Republican presidential politics are appearing while Trump is still doing ‘The Apprentice,’” he explained. “I mean, this is not really a Trump thing. What happens is Obama takes office. A lot of the party is just outraged at what he’s doing, and the Tea Party picks up. A real populist movement and it’s a populist movement that also harkens back — it shows that there was just a little precursor in 2008, with McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate.”

That movement would go on to become the grassroots, MAGA faction of the Republican party. “There’s this populist under current beginning in the Republican Party in 2010, 2012, and the Republican Party nominates a private equity guy [Mitt Romney] to be their nominee,” said York. “There is just this growing divergence between the party on one side and a lot of the rank and file, populist, party base.”

That news might not be great for LPR’s audience — who paid between $675 and $1,750 to attend the retreat — and benefactors, many of whom are themselves “private equity guys.” Americans for Prosperty, the original political “private equity guys,” announced yesterday their endorsement of William’s opponent for Lamborn’s open CD5 seat, Jeff Crank. Americans for Prosperity has also endorsed Trump opponent Nikki Haley.

Heidi Ganahl’s Rocky Mountain Voice — the media platform bankrolled by the Common Sense Institute’s Buz Koelbel and others, to the tune of $1.2 million — was frequently mentioned by speakers during the two-day event. CTR’s recent investigation of the Daniels Fund and Ready Colorado’s 990 forms show those entities, with ties to the financial heart of Colorado Republican politics, as regular LPR donors.

Ganahl, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022, selected LPR board member Danny Moore as her running mate, despite the substantial news coverage of his numerous conspiratorial Facebook posts, including both election denialism, disputing the severity of the COVID pandemic, and claiming that a local news outlet “staged” a deadly shooting. Moore remains on the LPR board to this day and continues to be prominently featured in the organization’s promotional materials.

“Trump has made this indelible mark on the policies of the Republican Party,” said York. “There’s going to have to be some sort of synthesis, I think, between Trumpian politics and a style of politics that can make all Republicans, happy —m aybe not 100% of them, but most of them, happy. And I think that’s coming sometime in the future, but not now. This conflict is going to continue, I think. Nikki Haley is kind of the last gasp of the Republicans, inside the primary process.”