Rep. Lauren Boebert holds an end-of-year press conference at the Home Loan State Bank community room in Grand Junction on Dec. 31 2021. (McKenzie Lange/The Daily Sentinel)
A common response to the Colorado primary election results this week was to remark that Republican voters rejected the election conspiracists, returned the party to the mainstream, signaled support for the establishment over the fringe.
It’s true that in several high-profile races the most reality-challenged, “team crazy” candidates got beat bad. That’s a relief.
But now we’re supposed to equate those losses to some realignment in the Colorado Republican Party with basic principles of democracy and constitutional order? As former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann might say, “Are you out of your effing mind?”
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One candidate said to represent the party’s late preference for “sanity” is Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent who beat Greg Lopez in the Republican primary for governor. Lopez amplified election conspiracy theories, notably by saying former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election and through vocal support of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, an over-the-top election denier who is under felony indictment for her role in an election security breach in her own office.
But Ganahl hardly scores much better. From the moment she announced her candidacy in September, Ganahl steadfastly avoided answering whether she believed the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. At the same time, she described Colorado-based U.S. Election Integrity Plan, which promotes baseless conspiracies, as “doing great things.” Earlier this month, she could finally bring herself to say, “I don’t believe there was enough fraud that would have flipped the election.” The approval this earned her was utterly undeserved — she still claims there was fraud, even though it was all but nonexistent, and she continued to promote the idea the election had “issues” that would justify doubts about the security of U.S. elections.
Next to Lopez, Ganahl might appear mainstream. Next to the history of American democratic norms, she’s a subversive extremist.
A bigger obstacle to any claim that Colorado Republicans were chastened by the last two years of nuttery in their ranks is the triumph of Rep. Lauren Boebert.
A similar dynamic was at play in the Republican contest between two U.S. Senate candidates, state Rep. Ron Hanks and construction executive Joe O’Dea. Hanks is a no-nuance election denier who crossed police lines at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. It’s not hard to run to his left, as did O’Dea, who won the primary. He was lauded for clearing the low bar of accepting Joe Biden’s presidency. But he also said he would support a possible Trump presidential candidacy in 2024. As the recent House hearings on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol have demonstrated, Trump knew that he lost the 2020 election but conspired to pursue illegal and violence-prone efforts to overturn the results. He committed one of the greatest crimes in the history of the country, but O’Dea would put him back in the country’s most powerful office.
Next to Hanks, O’Dea might appear reasonable. Next to the restraints against America’s slide toward autocracy, he’s an enemy of democracy.
A bigger obstacle to any claim that Colorado Republicans were chastened by the last two years of nuttery in their ranks is the triumph of Rep. Lauren Boebert, the face of the party, the state’s most influential election denier, and an outright seditionist. She helped inspire the insurrection and maintains a cultish devotion to Trump. She trounced her primary opponent Tuesday.
There are few figures in the country who approach Boebert’s political looniness. She is the fringe’s fringe. Colorado Republicans did that.
Unlike Ganahl and O’Dea, who are running for offices elected by a statewide electorate, Boebert faced voters only in her district, which is conservative. But it’s hard to imagine Boebert losing a primary in either of Colorado’s other two conservative districts, or just about any conservative district in the country, because, as is demonstrated in her fundraising success, social media popularity and numerous TV appearances, she skillfully embodies a post-Trump Republican style of provocation, insults, cruelty and truth-aversion that has proved so appealing to the party’s OAN-poisoned base. A majority of Republicans still falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen. That does not exclude Colorado Republicans.
The primary election spelled defeat for some of Colorado’s Trumpiest, freak-show candidates. Sure, let’s celebrate that.
The election did not, however, mark a return of the party to sanity. As long as its members support the coup-attempt leader Trump, hedge on election denial, and embrace democracy-hating seditionists, the party will remain unqualified for a status of good standing.
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