Former Colorado GOP chair: We recovered from Watergate, and we’ll recover from this

10 min. read
Donald Trump rally. July 29, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) donald trump; politics; election; vote; denver; colorado; republican; denverite; kevinjbeaty

There's a backlash to the backlash, with calls of "RINO" and "coward" for the Republicans who have announced they cannot support Donald Trump for president after hearing audio of him bragging about sexually assaulting women. Colorado is no exception.

The New York Times' list of Republicans who won't be voting for Trump grew by some 50 names after the release of the Access Hollywood audio Friday afternoon and includes many sitting senators, representatives and governors. Among them, are Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Republican Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, though Glenn is now reconsidering his change of heart.

Glenn's Facebook post announcing the withdrawal of his support, which came after prayer and two other Colorado Republicans calling on Trump to drop out, has more than 400 comments, most of them negative.

This is a pretty typical example, tamer than many: "You just lost my support. Coming out with your statement at this time just shows you are only thinking of your personal career. You are helping Hillary by throwing Trump under the bus, and more importantly are helping a woman who will destroy our nation."

And: "Well Mr. Glenn, you just lost my vote AND my respect! You are just another RINO [Republican In Name Only] jumping on the bandwagon. How sad of you."

Speaker Paul Ryan was heckled at a rally Saturday in Wisconsin to which Trump was uninvited, and during a call with House Republicans on Monday, his colleagues were in revolt as Ryan said he still endorsed Trump but would not defend him or campaign for him.

"The reaction from hard-liners was swift and angry," the New York Times reported. "Over the course of an hour, a stream of conservative lawmakers urged their colleagues not to give up on Mr. Trump and chided Mr. Ryan for what they described as surrendering prematurely in the presidential race."

Trump weighed in via Twitter.

And then on Monday, Darryl Glenn went on Fox News to say he liked what he heard at Sunday's debate and might yet vote for Trump.

Neither sticking with Trump nor distancing themselves will help Republicans.

That's the judgment of Robert Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College.

"This is a very dangerous situation for the Republican Party," he said. "It is very seriously splitting the party, and if they don't get the fences mended very quickly, it's going to spell grim news when the election results came in."

Trump is what's known in the political science literature as a "disaggregating" candidate. He's divisive, but he's more than that. He pulls apart traditional coalitions.

"I predict that Trump will have negative coattails for many Republican candidates, and that's the biggest problem they need to solve between now and when people start voting," he said. "... Coffman and Republicans like him are in a lose-lose situation. They have to separate themselves from Trump if they're going to have a chance of winning, but it will cost them support with Trump supporters. That's the disaggregating effect."

And what about after the election?

When Mitt Romney lost in 2012, it provoked a lot of soul-searching among Republicans about how they could better reach out to Latinos and Asians and to young voters, all representing a growing share of the electorate and all leaning Democratic. They even wrote a paper about how to get more of these voters: The Growth and Opportunity Project. But in 2016, Trump's rhetoric on immigration, crime and trade has deeply alienated many minority voters and even many college-educated white voters.

Trump's core of support lies with white men without a college degree. Loevy has never thought much of Trump's chances in Colorado, even when polls narrowed, because that portion of the electorate is relatively small here.

"Our voters are better educated, and they tend to have better jobs and higher incomes. And our economy particularly in the Denver area has revived more quickly than the national average," he said.

I asked Loevy how an increasingly white Republican Party can remain viable in a diverse electorate, especially when the base seems to support candidates who turn off non-white voters. He didn't mention doing more to attract minority voters. Instead, he recalled the decades and decades -- most of his politically active life -- when the Republicans were the party of middle- and upper-middle-class professionals.

"Progressively since 2000 this old base has been leaving the party," he said. "They've been driven away mainly by the religious right. ... This will prove that white, high school-educated male voters are not a big enough electorate. They have to win back the upper middle class. They were still viable in the party in 2000."

How do they win back those voters while keeping the voters who cheer Trump's provocations? How do they win back those voters while keeping the religious right?

"It's too easy to describe this as establishment versus conservative," said former state GOP chairman Dick Wadhams. "Some very conservative people oppose Trump. That said, it's pretty clear there is going to be a lot of wreckage to deal with four weeks from tomorrow. This has created a lot of chaos in the party that is going to have to work itself out."

One question is whether the Trump voters stick around if he loses.

Joy Hoffman, chair of the Arapahoe County Republicans, insists neither Trump's comments about women nor the high-profile defections are a topic of conversation at her headquarters. Instead, her people are focused on local races, or they're speculating about the timing. It's curious, she said, that news of Trump's remarks is drowning out what might otherwise be damaging leaks of Hillary Clinton's emails and speeches.

"People who don't like Mr. Trump before, don't like him now. People who liked Mr. Trump, like him now," she said. "It doesn't seem to be a big deal."

The position taken by Coffman, whose district includes Arapahoe County, was not a surprise, she said, given how he has positioned himself for the past several months, with ads distancing himself from Trump even as he kept mum on his actual vote.

That doesn't mean there is no fallout from Trump's candidacy, which Hoffman as county chair is obligated (and happy, she says) to support.

"I have seen divisions in families and divisions in friendships and divisions in neighborhoods that are very sad and disappointing," Hoffman said. "No one has a lock on what represents everybody. There is the appearance of incredible intolerance for divisions in world view."

Hoffman said some of the Trump volunteers haven't been active before or might not even have been Republicans before.

"The question will be, on the 10th of November, who is going to stick around and who is going to merge back into the shadows because they either didn't get what they wanted, or they did get what they wanted and they don't know what to do now?" Hoffman said.

Like Hoffman, Don Ytterberg, Jefferson County GOP chairman, downplays the significance of the feuding. It's great political theater at the national level. Locally, he has RTD commissioners and state senators to get elected.

"This campaign seems to be fought with two flawed candidates, but they are the nominees of their parties," he said. "The nominees for both parties are being supported by people who want to win the election. And the nominees for both parties are being criticized by people who want to play political sport. ... There is not a lot of time for navel-gazing between now and the 9th."

After the election, though, Republicans "will look in the rear-view mirror and wonder what happened," Ytterberg said. "We'll wonder how we fielded so many candidates and ended up with an outsider who is so roundly criticized by the elites."

Hoffman said Republicans do need to figure out who and what they are as a party moving forward.

"The party has to have some serious conversations about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable," she said.

To be clear, Hoffman doesn't mean here what Democrats might mean when they use the word "acceptable." She's not talking about Trump's rhetoric but how big or small the GOP tent will be.

"If you can agree with a person 80 percent of the time, then that person is a good fit," she added. "If you want someone you can agree with 100 percent, you better run yourself."

Wadhams is optimistic for Coffman but still worried for his party.

"I don't think there are any real repercussions for Mike Coffman because he laid out his distance from Mr. Trump months ago. He's done a very good job of walking this line," said Wadhams, who continues to back Trump himself. "I'm a little perplexed at Darryl Glenn, at his position, because he was a vocal supporter. He has not done a great job putting together a strong challenge (to Bennet), but he had a very solid base of conservative support."

Wadhams said the party needs candidates who can reach beyond the base. He thinks both Clinton and Bennet were eminently beatable this year with different Republican opponents.

"It's pretty clear what kind of Republican can win, what kind of conservative Republican can win even," he said. "It's not like Cory Gardner is a flaming liberal. ... A conservative Republican can win statewide if you run on issues that attract rather than repel voters and don't come off like a crazy person."

To win the governorship in 2018, Republicans have to not only find that candidate but usher him or her through a primary process where voters are looking for purity.

"There is every reason Republicans should be able to win the governorship, but there is also every possibility that we won't if we keep going down this path," Wadhams said.

I tried to ask Wadhams several different ways how Republicans will stop going down this path of nominating candidates who are too conservative or too extreme for the general electorate. He kept answering slightly different questions than the one I asked. Then he said Colorado has always been a hard state for Republicans.

But the party has seen dark days before and still come back.

"We had the same situation in 1974 after Watergate," he said. "It's easy to forget that the Republican Party was absolutely decimated after Watergate here and across the nation, but we came back."

Assistant Editor Erica Meltzer can be reached by phone at 303-502-2802, via email at [email protected] or

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