By definition, change does not come naturally to conservatives. Putting faith in principles, policies and institutions that have served as the bedrock for our families and communities is canonical for Republicans.
Unfortunately for Colorado Republicans, that bedrock seems to have crumbled beneath their feet.
When the Colorado Republican State Central Committee meets in a few weeks, it faces an existential crisis. Republicans got absolutely waxed in the 2018 elections, losing every statewide office, their state Senate majority, and all leverage in the state House where Democrats now control 41 of the 65 seats. Trickle-down politics being what they are, Republicans in many local elections were cleared out as well.
The titular purpose for the meeting will be to elect party leadership. With outgoing Chairman Jeff Hayes opting against a re-election run, a spirited race will pre-dominate the proceedings. But expecting a new party chair to save the Republican Party is a bit like expecting a Band-Aid to stanch the bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest; it might plug the hole for a second or two, but without major surgery the patient will still die.
For Republicans, that means weeding out many of the corrupt institutions that have withered the party’s body over the past few decades and replacing them with something new. For example, the prevalent role played by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners — and affiliated groups — in Republican politics needs to end.
Last year, RMGO knee-capped Rep. Cole Wist, purportedly over his support for a “red flag” bill that would restrict possession of firearms from people suffering mental crises. By actively campaigning against the Republican during the general election, as opposed to a primary, RMGO helped elect Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, father of an Aurora shooting victim and the most powerful gun-control advocate in the state.
Colorado will surely enact more gun-control laws with Sullivan in office rather than Wist, an outcome antithetical to the majority of Republicans, but good for RMGO’s fundraising.
But excising the rot represents only the first step. Colorado Republicans must also rehab and rebuild.
While new leadership may be a start in the right direction, until conservatives develop a platform and message that will attract unaffiliated voters and disaffected Democrats, the foreseeable future will remain a deep shade of blue.
I do not mean that Republicans need to mimic Democratic positions. Rather, they need to stop being a tribal party defined by opposition to Democratic proposals and return to a party of policy programs developed through rigorous intellectual application of conservative principles.
For example, since Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic run for president, Democrats have increasingly adopted his “Medicare for All” proposal.
The Republican response has been to simply oppose; given the opportunity to broaden the debate and talk about meaningful reform to the fee-for-service healthcare system bankrupting our state and country, Republicans have allowed the discussion dynamic to revolve around Democratic proposals. Absent a meaningful alternative, people turn to the party that is in favor of “doing something.”
Similar points could be made regarding education or transportation. It’s hard to win anything when you’re only playing defense. That’s particularly true when the status quo isn’t working for so many voters.
Unfortunately, Republicans seem hellbent on sticking to the most divisive issues and candidates. Recent polling puts immigration enforcement as their top priority and demonstrates a strong preference for uncompromising conservatives over moderates.
That puts them at odds with not just the Democratic Party, but also the majority of unaffiliated voters who now make up the single largest block of registered voters in the state.
Consequently, that’s likely where new leadership in the Colorado Republican Party can do the most good. The new chair will need to have the courage and fortitude to speak truth to activists and operatives who don’t want to hear it.
If the new chair doesn’t, then no amount of Band-Aids will help save the party from dying.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq