National Democrats and Colorado Republicans may seem like strange bedfellows, but they share one defining characteristic: They know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In 2016, Democrats mobilized around a convenient progressive trope, the laudable notion that it was time for a woman president. The majority of voters agreed, but key Midwestern states supported Donald Trump, thereby giving him an electoral majority.
In retrospect, Hillary Clinton’s narrow losses in the battleground states were predictable. Long despised and demonized by the right, Clinton had become a modern-day David Schine — a deeply unpopular actor in an unending political tragicomedy. Strangely enough, Democrats opposed to Hillary coalesced around Bernie Sanders, an acerbic senator from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat.
Four years later, it looks as if Democrats are ready to double down on their own incompetence. Thanks to the reality show rules that the party adopted for the primaries, it seems likely that Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren or former Vice President Joe Biden will be nominated.
Let’s see: Sanders or Warren would reshape major sectors of the American economy by banning fracking, introducing universal public health care and implementing a “Green New Deal.” Good ol’ Joe isn’t a starry-eyed radical, but he’d be no match for President Trump on the campaign trail. Biden’s age-related stumbles and malaprops would be red meat for the Trumpistas, and likely doom his candidacy.
Thanks to clear-eyed moderate and often-female congressional candidates, Democrats took over the House of Representatives in 2018. Eighteen months later, the Sanders/Warren wing of the party may get enough convention delegates to anoint one of the two as the Democratic candidate. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg qualify as clear-eyed Midwestern moderates who might trounce Trump, but so what? For frustrated lefties, it may be better to lose with Liz or burn out with Bernie than to win with a cautious compromiser.
Since statehood in 1876, Colorado has been a purple state. Statewide offices have usually been distributed between the two major parties, thanks to the nonpartisan sensibilities of many voters. In 2004, Republicans held Senate control and the Governor’s Mansion, only to be replaced by Dems in 2009. This healthy churn continued in 2014, when moderate Republican Cory Gardner knocked off incumbent Democrat Mark Udall for a Senate seat.
Four years later, Republicans suffered a major beat-down as Democrats swept every statewide elected office. Some blamed President Trump for the defeat, but the GOP malaise was self-inflicted.
As Front Range cities gained electoral clout at the expense of rural Colorado, Republicans moved right. Apparently unimpressed by Gardner’s success, the party nominated doctrinaire conservatives who unhesitatingly swore fealty to the president and to ranchers, hunters, farmers and firearms.
But as some obscure folksinger once wrote, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand / For the times they are a-changing.” Colorado isn’t Yuma and Grand Junction anymore — it’s the Front Range Metroplex. Think of thinly populated rural Colorado as our Central Park, only much bigger, much cooler and much more fun. And sure, there are some quaint, quirky folks who actually live in the park — but not enough to worry about.
As the 2020 election looms, Gardner faces almost certain defeat. Other than breaking meaningfully with President Trump or hoping that a radical Democratic presidential candidate damages likely Senate nominee John Hickenlooper, there’s not much he can do about it.
Assuming that Gardner loses, what’s next? To revive and survive, the party needs to change. Consider Jena Griswold, the then 34-year-old Democrat who defeated GOP incumbent Secretary of State Wayne Williams by 200,000 votes in 2018. Wayne was a competent S.O.S., but he ran into an electoral buzzsaw. Two years ago wasn’t a time for conservative middle-aged male candidates — will 2022 be any different?
Republicans ought to look at a long-despised subclass, urban progressive women who are also fiscal conservatives. Mocked as RINOs (Republicans in name only), they’re invisible to the base and to the GOP hierarchy. For example, how about Colorado Springs City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who currently chairs the Colorado Springs Utility Board? First elected to council in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, Gaebler will be termed out in 2021. She’d be a credible, exciting and competitive candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Of course, you can always find a silver-haired male to carry the GOP’s flickering torch — why not me? I’m tanned, rested and ready for defeat.