In the seminal History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon detailed the cruelty and persecution Nero enacted upon his people. As an anachronistic legend recounted, the emperor fiddled while Rome burned down around him.
For the past quarter century, Dudley Brown took similar pleasure in the destruction he wrought over the Colorado Republican Party.
The longtime executive director for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Brown stepped down after suffering a string of humiliating losses in courts and ballot boxes. After more than 20 years terrorizing Republican candidates and turning Colorado from red to blue, Brown’s departure will come as welcome news to conservatives across the state.
Brown began his campaign of division during a time when Republicans enjoyed significant electoral advantages. When he launched RMGO in 1996, Republicans controlled 20 of the 35 state Senate districts and 41 of the 65 state House seats. In 1998, Bill Owens became the first Republican elected governor in more than 25 years.
Then Brown began laying down suppressing fire within his own camp. Through dirty tricks and tactics, Brown helped candidates who swore fealty to him in Republican primaries. And he regularly won.
The comparatively small number of voters who historically turned out in Republican primaries overwhelmingly responded to his tactics of fear and manipulation. Candidates who stood before him often found themselves riddled with metaphorical bullets. As one of those candidates, I have an acute memory of the experience.
In 2014, I ran for state Senate. Brown and RMGO handpicked a puppet to move into the district and run against me. Then his cabal unleashed a steady torrent of direct mail attacks. They were both untrue – I took one that proclaimed me “anti-gun” to the range and shot it full of holes – and illegal.
But Brown got his money’s worth. I got trounced.
His stooge went on to lose the general election, not once but twice. That mattered little to Brown. He wanted conservatives who opposed him to lose more than he wanted Republicans to win.
A few years later he doubled down on that credo. In 2018 Brown engaged in an all-out assault against incumbent state Rep. Cole Wist during a general election. Not only did Brown help elect a Democrat, but he ensured the most effective gun-control advocate in Colorado, Tom Sullivan, would replace Wist in the statehouse.
Brown’s monumentally hypocritical recall effort against Sullivan six months later demonstrated just how little he is interested in governing majorities. To the contrary, politicos across the state have regularly hypothesized that Democratic majorities helped to line RMGO’s pockets.
Brown made Republican “cancel culture” his business for more than two decades.
Thanks to his efforts, Colorado Republicans have seen a complete flip of their fortunes. Democrats now control all four statewide offices and hold 19-to-16 lead in the state Senate and 41-to-24 stranglehold on the state House.
Only that reality finally persuaded Republican donors and operatives to pony up the resources necessary to effectively shoot back at Brown and his acolytes. They poured more than a million dollars into a handful of races targeted by RMGO. In the modern Colorado version of the OK Corral, RMGO-aligned candidates were left strewn across northern Colorado.
In the aftermath, it appears Brown has tucked tail and run. He’ll likely focus his newfound time on the National Association for Gun Rights, a group he helped found to combat the “leftist” views of the NRA. God help national Republicans if he’s able to replicate the playbook he instituted here.
Brown’s decline and fall may come too late for Colorado Republicans to recover. But at least, long-term, they won’t need to worry as much about being shot in the back as they try.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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