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Nicolais: Who is Colorado’s dreaded GOP Establishment?

In a party that has spent a decade in decline, the derogatory label continues to drag Republicans into the electoral abyss

Not a week had gone by since the Colorado Republican Party chose its new leadership before former Congressman Tom Tancredo leveled the ultimate GOP barb against the new administration.

After U.S. Rep. Ken Buck won the chairmanship at the bi-annual meeting and appointed former chair Steve House to run day-to-day operations, Tancredo took to local radio to decry Buck’s choice.

The charge? They represent the “Establishment.”

Mario Nicolais

In today’s Colorado Republican Party, no aspersion casts a darker shadow than being labeled a member of the dreaded establishment. The frequency with which that slur is bandied about in Republican circles is astonishing. Nearly anytime a disagreement in the party goes public, at least one person will be accused of being either a member or a puppet for the establishment.

The unanswered question is: who constitutes the GOP Establishment in Colorado?

Ironically, the answer has nothing to do with who holds current political power within the party. To the contrary, it is frequently used as a means to retain influence and control by vilifying anyone with a dissenting view.

Case in point, just a few weeks ago one current state representative and two former state House members from the GOP created an organization they hoped could help Republicans halt their statewide downward spiral by changing its message in competitive districts. Immediately, State House Minority Leader Patrick Neville took to the airwaves to complain that he has to “battle constantly against these establishment Republicans.”

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Let that sink in. The highest ranking Republican in the Colorado House of Representatives — whose family also happens to control the largest Republican war chest for state house campaigns — wants people to believe that two former legislators and a non-leadership member represent the established power in GOP circles. It would be comical if it weren’t so Orwellian.

Tancredo and Neville hardly represent isolated cases. Since the Tea Party movement launched in 2010, candidates, elected officials and grassroots activists have increasingly incorporated the label during intraparty strife.

It is so ubiquitous now that it’s hard to imagine an hour of conservative talk show time being run without the establishment being invoked at least once. Even House, the man now lambasted by Tancredo, rode a wave of “us-versus-the-establishment” rhetoric into the state chair position just four years ago.

Furthermore, it is nothing new. For the 20 years that I’ve worked on and advised Republican candidates and campaigns, a certain segment of the party has always trafficked in coded language, particularly targeted toward intra-party rivals.

Pejorative terms such as “RINO” (Republican in name only) or “squish” have been a part of the intra-party Republican vernacular for decades. But the all encompassing “establishment” has eclipsed every other label, becoming an agglomeration of bile and disdain previously incorporated into other insults.

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Maybe it should have been easy to see coming. Afterall, many of the grassroots activists energized in 2010 rightly bristled at what who they saw as party elites who took no heed from the rank-and-file.

They had a point, and they changed things. Leaders within their ranks harnessed the palpable angst and used it to gain control of county parties, elected office and the state party.

Cursed with power, the new establishment oversaw two disastrous election cycles in the state. Colorado went from purple to blue and now faces the looming reality of permanent minority party status. Consequently, the new leadership needed someone to blame and turned toward a tried and true Republican boogeyman — the establishment Republicans!

No matter that people touting anti-establishment credentials have run things for years at this point, dredging up the tired battle cry still seems to work.

As long as that dynamic continues to play out, Colorado Republicans should expect to slip further and further into the electoral abyss.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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