Commentary

More Colorado Republicans should bolt the party

Sen. Priola got sick of election lies. The country would benefit if others followed his example.

September 1, 2022 4:30 am

A sign stating “Trump Won” is raised during an event called the Colorado Election Truth Rally, which was organized by activists who question the results of the 2020 presidential election, in Denver, April 5, 2022. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)

In 2020, national Republican Party officials decided they would dispense with writing a party platform, and they crafted a resolution instead.

“The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda,” the resolution said.

In other words, the platform was essentially a declaration of absolute fealty to Donald Trump. 

It’s useful to remember this when considering the case of Colorado state Sen. Kevin Priola and the response to his announcement last week that he was switching parties, from Republican to Democrat.

Democrats celebrated the move, of course, not least because Priola’s cross-aisle leap is a significant setback to Republican hopes of winning control of the state Senate. And Republicans unloaded on Priola like the faithful condemning an apostate.

Displeasure from Priola’s former party mates is understandable. But the lines of attack betrayed a failure among Colorado Republicans to understand the stakes of the moment. They seemed oblivious to how the party as an institution, beyond any single member’s good or bad behavior, poses an existential threat to democracy, and how no record of good faith isolated to any single state or candidate outweighs the danger the party poses to America’s fair-election future.

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“Like many Coloradans, I watched the events on January 6 with horror,” Priola wrote in a letter announcing his party switch. “I felt that clearly this would be the last straw and that my party would now finally distance itself from Donald Trump and the political environment he created. Week after week and month after month, I waited for that response; it never came.”

He added: “I cannot continue to be part of a political party that is okay with a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election and continues to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen.”

Keep in mind that Trump remains the front-runner Republican presidential nominee for 2024, and the runner-up, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is an election-denying authoritarian acolyte. An unshakeable 70% of Republicans still think President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win was illegitimate, even though Trump’s own campaign and administration officials thoroughly rejected the “big lie.”

Republicans at the highest levels of leadership have categorically abandoned even the pretense of concern for the rule of law, the most recent example being their ghastly attempts to excuse the former president’s spy-like handling of national secrets, which echoed the cultish devotion to Trump exhibited by Republican apologists in Congress during the former president’s two impeachments for flagrant high crimes.

Against that context, observe how shortsighted Priola’s detractors in Colorado revealed themselves to be.

“Priola’s statement is an insult to me and all election officials that stand on the frontlines with people who challenge the legitimacy of our elections,” said Pam Anderson, the Republican candidate for Colorado secretary of state, who indeed has been stalwart in defending the integrity of American elections.

The party as an institution is so beset with anti-democratic influences that hostility to free and fair elections is a defining feature.

“The election deniers that so vex Priola lost decisively in the Colorado GOP primary,” wrote conservative columnist Krista Kafer in The Denver Post, referring to zany Trumpists like state Rep. Ron Hanks, who lost his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who lost her bid for secretary of state, and Greg Lopez, who lost his bid for Colorado governor. “Trump’s pernicious influence appears to be waning in this state. Why leave the GOP when the fever is close to breaking?”

Then there was Dick Wadhams, a Republican doyen of Colorado politics, who said on George Brauchler’s radio show, “I was sitting there thinking, ‘Was Kevin gone on primary election day, when Ron Hanks and Tina Peters and Greg Lopez and a whole slew of election conspiracists went down in legislative primaries?’ I mean the Colorado Republican Party spoke loudly and clearly in the primary.”

They just don’t get it.

For starters, the party hardly spoke as clearly as Wadhams would have you think. Heidi Ganahl won the governor nomination, but her own behavior amounts to election denial. Joe O’Dea won the U.S. Senate nomination, but, though he has waffled on the subject, as late as Aug. 5 he said he would vote for Trump if he ran for president again. How is it possible that anyone seeking elective office in America could voice support for a would-be autocrat who wanted his vice president hanged for not joining an attempted coup? Anyway, that sure doesn’t qualify as speaking clearly against election conspiracism.

But the more important way these Priola critics get it so wrong is that they continue to treat the Republican Party as an organization that participates in American democratic traditions even as certain Republicans have rejected those traditions. The truth is that the party has ceased to participate in American democratic traditions even as a shrinking minority of Republicans attempt to save those traditions.

No doubt Anderson would be a perfectly competent secretary state. That’s beside the point. Her party as an institution is so beset with anti-democratic influences that hostility to free and fair elections is a defining feature. Any affiliation with the party equates to support for election denial and authoritarianism and confers legitimacy to an organization intent on the elimination of democracy. Signs that Trump’s influence is waning are irrelevant, because Trumpism, with every strain of its bigotry, racism and fascism, is ascendant on the right.

The only possible option for a Republican to retain some measure of honor is to, like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, unequivocally denounce Trumpists. When brave Republicans do this, however, they invariably find themselves, like Cheney, excoriated by their party.

The other option — the only one that really makes sense for anyone who wants to see democracy survive in America — is to renounce the party. Many have done so throughout the country. Former Colorado state Rep. Cole Wist, who in 2017 and 2018 served as House assistant minority leader, left the party in January, citing “election lies.”

Now Priola.

The state, and the country, would benefit from more such defections.

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