Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Trump supporters gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Republican lies about the election, the January coup attempt, the threat of a former president building a new regime on the ashes of American democracy — these are not matters on which political leaders can remain aloof. Every leader in the country with a constituency to answer to must choose a side. It’s either preservation of the republic or its desecration.
There is no middle ground. No hedge. No refuge where a politician should be allowed to safely equivocate. The stakes for the country are too great, and the possibility that it could fail is too real. Refusal to denounce election deniers and insurrectionists is as good as promoting them. Silence on the traitor Donald Trump’s reemergence as a presidential candidate is as good as endorsing him. Get this wrong and you’ve chosen the side of desecration.
Kristi Burton Brown is getting it wrong.
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The recently installed chair of the Colorado GOP, Burton Brown thinks she can evade the most important political questions facing the country. From candidate debates earlier this year, when she was campaigning to become chair, to her response to media questions in recent weeks, Burton Brown has dissembled, hoping no one will notice. She’s trying to achieve an impossible balance between appeasement of the inflexibly extreme MAGA base and recruitment of unaffiliated voters to her party, which in Colorado is on an epic losing streak. But lies and likability are incompatible, and some might feel sympathy for a person saddled with such a futile task.
Do not feel bad for Burton Brown.
She has done plenty to ensure that anyone serving as the GOP state party chair looks foolish, and since assuming the top spot she has consistently beclowned herself.
During her campaign for the position, she almost mastered the skill of skirting questions about former President Trump’s big-lie claims that the November election was stolen from him. But sometimes she slipped. “There’s no question that there’s plenty of voter fraud across the nation,” she said during a February debate of chair candidates, even though legitimate evidence of widespread voter fraud doesn’t exist.
Such pandering to the QAnon wing of the Republican base might have helped propel her to the head of the party, but it makes for awkward public messaging now that she’s trying to rescue the organization from irrelevance. Consider, for example, her approach to an interview she sat for with KOAA5 this month. Asked where she comes down on Trump’s continuing claims that the election was stolen, Burton Brown said, “I come down on focusing on the future of Colorado.” Does she believe Trump, who increasingly appears as if he will be the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, is still the leader of the party? “I believe that ideas run the Republican Party in this country.” What’s her take on an investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection? “We need to move on.”
She performed a similar routine of evasion in May when interviewed by CPR’s Ryan Warner. When asked if the election was fraudulent, Burton Brown offered the absurd reply, “I believe that Joe Biden is in the White House.” Her boilerplate response to inquiries about Trump or the purportedly stolen election or the attempted coup at the Capitol is to claim she’s only concerned with Colorado and looking ahead to the midterms. “I am focused on the future,” Burton Brown told Warner. “I will repeat that over and over again. We’re going to talk about Colorado in 2022.”
Burton Brown might lack the mettle to forthrightly answer questions about the country and its future, but tells abound.
There’s her unwavering approval of seditionist Rep. Lauren Boebert, who can’t be accused of hiding her own feelings about the election (voted to overturn it), the insurrection (helped inspire it), or Trump (cultish devotion). Leaders in any healthy democracy would treat Boebert like a critical threat to government stability, but Burton Brown thinks she’s “great,” and in fact served as Boebert’s lead policy adviser during the lawmaker’s campaign.
Burton Brown has close ties to FEC United, a conservative political group whose founder, Joe Oltmann, famously spread conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems and was named as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit from Dominion executive Eric Coomer. The leader of FEC’s affiliated militia, John Tiegen, organized the “Patriot Muster” last year in Denver at which a supporter was shot to death.
Burton Brown recently served as guest host on “The Dan Caplis Show,” during which she interviewed conservative Aurora City Council candidate Danielle Jurinsky. During one chilling exchange, Jurinsky, talking about gun rights and the political stakes of the moment, said, “We are at war, and it is good versus evil, and I believe that good will prevail.” Burton Brown agreed.
The main tell, however, is that she is unwilling to honestly answer questions that speak to whether American democracy will survive. Burton Brown’s duck-and-cover posture amounts to an answer — that election lies are condoned and the insurrection is forgiven.
Take note, unaffiliated voters. This is the Colorado Republican Party.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:59 a.m., 2021, to correct the spelling of Eric Coomer.
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