Colorado offers new evidence the GOP is turning off its own voters

Do Republicans’ problems go beyond voter antipathy to Trump? Is the GOP a Superfund site?

At this point, that’s a belief and attitude among Democrats, but there’s not a lot of hard evidence. GOP candidates underperformed in 2022, but the high-profile losers were almost exclusively Trump-endorsed election deniers. In Arizona, thousands of registered Republicans voted for the Democratic candidates.

To really understand what’s happening, study local politics. The phrase “all politics is local” is usually attributed to late House speaker Tip O’Neill, but was actually coined by a journalist (details here). And Colorado is emerging as a laboratory to see what’s happening to the Republican Party as it veers off course.

By that I mean the GOP is abandoning its traditional posture as the party of small government and individual freedom, and going in a direction of trying to control people’s lives by waging “culture wars.”

A Colorado lobbyist says voters there historically voted for the person, not a party, but in November 2022 “it was largely an up-and-down-the-ticket vote” for the Democrats. And last week, a Democrat won the mayor’s race by a landslide in Colorado Springs, a conservative bastion (see story here).

A former Colorado GOP chair attributes her party’s sagging fortunes partly to a changing population from in-migration, but also acknowledges that angry and divisive politics is hurting her party with young people. A Denver pollster says it’s more than those factors; the party’s extremism is driving away moderate voters.

In Florida, Republicans are on a winning streak, and a “culture warrior” governor backed by legislative supermajorities are pushing all the buttons that turn off voters in places like Colorado. But they’ve avoided election denialism, and Florida has unique demographics that put in question whether the Florida formula can be replicated elsewhere.

Nationally polls, focus groups, and conversations with individual voters indicate most Americans don’t like the divisiveness of today’s politics, and want the parties to work cooperate and compromise. A common complaint is that the parties are too far right and left, and nobody represents the center. Biden won in 2020 partly by selling the idea that he could work across the aisle.

The activists who dominate the parties are more ideological than ordinary voters, which accounts for why the parties stray from the center. But they’ll lose if they stray too far, as Colorado’s recent experience suggests. Trump’s influence over the GOP clouds the picture, but the emerging evidence in places like Arizona and Colorado suggests the GOP has a toxicity problem.

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