Last month, former state Rep. Cole Wist announced he was leaving the Republican Party.
“It’s been 1 year since Jan. 6, 2021,” he said in a tweet. “All downhill from there. Election lies, vaccine misinformation, making it harder to vote, excusing Jan. 6 thuggery, conspiracy theories galore. I tried. I encouraged reason. I urged a pivot from Trump. I failed. I’m out.”
Wist ended his harsh, yet accurate, critique with the hashtag “#Unaffiliated.” He now joins the largest political group in Colorado.
The former assistant minority leader is not the only conservative to abandon ship. After years of watching the party become overrun by a professional conman, many former leaders are losing hope of the party swinging back. Leaving is a tough call. After all, it’s not Wist and others who have abandoned the party; it’s the party that has abandoned them.
The assessment to leave is correct. More than a year after the departure of the former president, the party is clearly not changing direction. If anything, Republican leaders are doubling down on Trump’s path and tactics.
Evidence of a party gone rogue is everywhere, including in Colorado.
It’s seen in several Republican members of the Douglas County school board blatantly subverting open meeting laws in secret attempts to fire non-conservative employees.
It’s seen in multiple Republican clerks and recorders investigated by the Secretary of State for election security breaches, and at least one official being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It’s seen in a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate coming from the Trump administration and hiring Trump’s former adviser — even after she repeatedly broke federal ethics laws.
It’s seen in Rep. Doug Lamborn being investigated for serious ethics violations, and Rep. Ken Buck wearing T-shirts at public events that read “Kill ‘em all.”
It’s seen in Rep. Lauren Boebert becoming the face of the party — despite a flagrant disregard for truth, ethics and rule of law — and her former staff as the new chairperson of the state party.
In short, it’s the vast majority of Colorado Republican leadership, and any Republican who doesn’t support these behaviors is actively being pushed out.
Historically, this isn’t the first time political ideology has shifted. Looking back, it will be crystal clear that Trump served as a paradigm shift for Republicans that cannot be undone.
Any efforts to change the party from within will be largely futile for the foreseeable future. Believing otherwise is wishful thinking, and it’s beyond time to accept that being a Republican in the past doesn’t make you a Republican now — the party values have changed, even if yours haven’t.
The takeaway for voters is abundantly clear.
Conservative-leaning voters who reject Trumpism must continue to reject any candidate unwilling to loudly denounce the former president, election and conspiracy lies, science misinformation, attacks on democratic principles and the rule of law. Preserving American democracy must continue to supersede any perceived shared policy initiatives.
This has direct implications for several major races in the state.
In the third congressional district, there are two Republican challengers running to defeat Rep. Lauren Boebert. Only one, Marina Zimmerman, has been exceptionally clear and outspoken against the dangerous trajectory of the party. The other, state Sen. Don Coram, has not been firm, reportedly on record as saying to a local paper, “I think [January 6, 2021] was embarrassing. It was a radical fringe group on both sides that were there, and what ended up were emotions out of the way and all hell broke loose.”
This is a lie.
The “both sides” claim is not an accurate depiction of the events at the Capitol that day as verified by top federal law enforcement. Coram’s rhetoric clearly panders to the Trump base and is insufficient for consideration by pro-democracy and pro-American voters. Trump-lite might be slightly better than Boebert, but it’s still not good enough.
Similarly, Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl has yet to reject election lies and conspiracies, instead giving nods to their credibility. The same general lack of rejecting Trumpism is true for all of the major Republican candidates for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat.
These are not differences of opinion on taxes or roads or water policy. These are actions taken directly against our nation’s founding democratic principles. Traditional conservative voters must follow the likes of Wist and exit the party now. This action alone can send the strong message that the party itself must change or face the consequences.
Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
With or without Trump, Colorado Republicans continue to show us who they are. It’s up to voters to listen and hold them accountable.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.