The struggle of the Republican Party to adapt, both here in Colorado and nationally, to changing demographics and viewpoints that threaten the party's long-term viability, is one of the most important themes we have documented in this space since our beginnings in 2004. Here in Colorado, Democrats have emerged generally victorious in five consecutive general election cycles, adding a new chapter to the political history of this historically conservative but untamably independent state. We believe, furthermore, that the last decade of Colorado politics has revealed systemic problems within the Republican Party, which threaten a replication of the long-term minority status they hold in this state in many other places across the country.
In 2012, we watched these intertwining and systemic problems cost Republicans the presidential election–while stopping the closest the GOP has had to a comeback in Colorado, 2010's one-seat margin recapture of the state House majority, in its tracks.
Today, as they seem to clearly understand nationally if not in Colorado, the Republican Party's greatest threat to its ongoing viability is itself. A report we were pointed to this weekend from the Republican National Committee detailing the results of their post-2012 "Growth and Opportunity Project," makes a host of observations and recommendations for improving the GOP's competitiveness in coming elections. Excerpt:
Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic. We are losing in too many places.
It has reached the point where in the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats’ 113.1
Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.
At the federal level, much of what Republicans are doing is not working beyond the core constituencies that make up the Party. On the state level, however, it is a different story…
The report goes on to describe both the troubles that national Republicans have had and continue to create for themselves with younger voters, women, Hispanics, and so many others outside the party's core conservative, white, and Christian base. Interestingly, the authors contrast these failures at the "federal level" with supposedly much more successful state-level Republican governance. On page nine, the report reads off a list of accomplishments by GOP governors like John Kasich in Ohio and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. "Republicans," declares the authors, "are thriving on the state level."
The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
It is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from successful Republicans on the state level. It is time to smartly change course, modernize the Party, and learn once again how to appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles.
You've probably begun to realize something important here, haven't you? When forward-thinking Republicans say "it is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from Republicans at the state level," they are not talking about Colorado Republicans.
Immediately after the Colorado GOP's latest wholesale drubbing in 2012, for Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry teamed up with former state Rep. Rob Witwer, co-author of The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), and penned a column for the Denver Post titled "Republicans must improve or die." Penry and Witwer argued that the Colorado Republican Party "has sullied its brand."
Every year, we kick somebody else off the island. We make it easy for Democrats to say that we don't want the support of women, Hispanics, teachers, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, conservationists, Muslims and union members. Pretty soon there won't be anybody left to vote for us.
Folks, what have Colorado Republicans done so far this year to take their advice?
Because the abortion ban legislation run this year, with the starkest legislative language on the matter in years, doesn't make us think they have listened to Penry and Witwer. Likewise the fewer Republicans in support of civil unions this year even after the issue arguably cost them the House last year. A few Republicans stood up for the ASSET bill to create tuition equity for undocumented graduates of Colorado high schools, but hardly enough to overcome the impassioned speeches against it from other Republicans. Republicans have seized on the almost-concluded struggle over gun safety legislation with obvious intention to exploit it politically, but their long-term, credibility is jeopardized by the wild claims they made about the proposals that will shortly be proven nonsensical. And again, this is an issue that has very little resonance outside the GOP's existing base of support.
To be perfectly honest, Penry is in no position to be judgmental. In 2009, when former Sen. Dave Schultheis infamously told a reporter that that it would be his "hope" that babies would get AIDS so their mothers would "feel guilt," Penry responded, "people are entitled to their opinions," and "it's not my job to go around and censure people and tell them what to say." Meanwhile, Schultheis became the poster child for exactly what Penry bemoans today.
As you know, in 2010, Colorado Republicans did not produce a Chris Christie. They nominated Dan Maes.
In short, Colorado has become a model for Democrats of political success. For Republicans grappling with life-and-death viability issues in their party, Colorado may also be a model: for what to avoid.