Try to remember, last November … when, thanks in part to two unpopular wars and a world financial crisis, Barack Obama swept into office, along with lopsided Democratic congressional majorities.
Let’s see, it’s been 10 months since the election, and Obama’s been in office since January, and we’re mad! Mad! Mad! And we’re tired of him, and still tired of our endless wars, and tired of our anemic economy, and we neither understand nor support his health care plan … and if the national Republicans weren’t so ditsy, incoherent and incompetent we might even pay attention to them.
But the faded avatars of the conservative right are the party’s past. A GOP renaissance won’t come about because of the bloviating blowhards of a bygone era.
Ten years ago, Colorado Democrats carefully rolled out a 10-year strategic plan to seize political power in the Centennial state. Dems came reluctantly to a simple political truth: seize the center and you win.
That meant new themes and different candidates. It meant nominating a pro-life district attorney for governor. It meant supporting moderate and conservative Democrats in swing districts, rather than sending liberal warhorses to certain defeat.
So powerful and effective was the strategy that Colorado turned from emphatically red (a GOP governor, two GOP senators, five of seven house members and GOP control of both houses of the legislature) to emphatically blue (same numbers — but reversed).
Have Colorado GOPsters, in Talleyrand’s famous phrase, “learned nothing and forgotten nothing?”
Despite the party’s statewide collapse, many GOP honchos believe that next year’s road to victory is just the same as last year’s road to defeat. They’re sticking with the same old sour rants, and even inventing new ones.
As one GOP legislator, chided for the party’s mendacious and cynical promotion of Obamacare’s non-existent “death panels” told me, “Oh, I know it’s B.S., but politically it’s brilliant! Scare the old people, make ‘em think that the government’s gonna kill ‘em — brilliant!!”
That’s straight out of the Dick Wadhams/Tom Delay/Karl Rove playbook that worked so well for so many years.
As recently as a year ago, Gov. Bill Ritter looked unbeatable. That’s why the aging lions of the Republican party supported 33 year-old Josh Penry as Senate minority leader. They wanted to create a new generation of leaders — and they figured Penry would gain stature and experience in the job.
During years past, the GOP’s “reality-based community” might have collectively shrugged their shoulders and let Penry have it. He’s slavishly followed the dictates of the party’s right wing, while his opponent (and one-time mentor) Scott McInnis has the kind of principled, somewhat quirky consistency that Coloradoans seem to appreciate in their politicians.
Translated, that means McInnis can win — and Penry can’t, or so his fans believe.
“Ritter will eat him alive,” one of McInnis’ supporters told me, “He has no experience in the real world, he’s very young, and he’s not particularly smart. Arkansas may have elected Bill Clinton governor when he was 30 — but I know Bill Clinton, and Josh Penry’s no Bill Clinton.”
McInnis, by contrast, has been a police officer, an attorney, a member of the Colorado legislature and served six terms in the U.S. Congress before leaving a safe seat “to spend more time with his family.”
And perhaps more importantly, at least for El Paso County Republicans, McInnis opposed the ill-advised Pinon Canyon bill that Penry and the Dems whooped through the legislature, and that Ritter cheerfully signed.
That bill, touted as a “property rights” and “eminent domain” issue, essentially told the Army that the proposed expansion of the Pinon Canyon maneuver site was, as far as the Colorado state government was concerned, DOA — and if that meant closing Fort Carson, so be it.
So the McInnis-Penry race will present our conservative local GOPsters with a wrenching dilemma: do you support the fresh-faced young ideologue, or do you support a more moderate candidate who a) might actually win, and b) understands the transcendent importance of Fort Carson to the state and local economy?
Republican elected officials in El Paso County appear to prefer McInnis. The sheriff, the D.A. and a majority of county commissioners have endorsed the former congressman — but will their support translate into votes at next year’s county assembly?
Given the stakes, you’d think it’d be McInnis in a walkover.
But many — make that most — of the primary-votin’ Repubs in El Paso County are so frozen in their ideological biases that they’ll forgive Penry’s youthful folly (Fort Carson? Isn’t that, like, historic, like Bent’s Fort? Why does the government want to condemn ranches to expand Bent’s Fort? You mean there are actual soldiers there?) and embrace his zealous social conservatism.
So he’ll get nominated, and, most likely, flame out in the general election. And we’ll have Ritter, and the Democrats, and Obama and more Democrats, and, if we’re lucky, Fort Carson, too!
And if the Army pulls the plug on our hapless little burg, and exits stage left, don’t worry … because, just as Bogie and Bergman will always have Paris, we’ll always have the U.S. Olympic Committee.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.