Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in history.
It was merely a sliver of a much larger piece; a brief flicker on a movie screen. It certainly would not equate to The Boston Tea Party or the Treaty of Versailles. At most, the events surrounding the state convention of the Colorado Republican Party will eventually amount to no more than a footnote in most historical texts. Yet, this election is nothing if not historic, and I was glad to play a minuscule part in it. Given the controversy that is now swirling around the actions of the Colorado Republican Party, I thought my perspective (however insignificant) might prove valuable as another place marker in my life’s journey.
I spent the entire weekend in Colorado Springs. With apologies to the GOP, my main reason was not political. My girlfriend’s birthday was in close proximity to the convention, and that proved to be my prime motivator. It also may explain why I was more than a little tired when I got to the Broadmoor World Arena at approximately 8:45 on Saturday morning. It was not a good morning to go without coffee, but I had no choice as I had already overslept and was in a rush.
I could tell you about the myriad of speeches I heard. The chief form of entertainment at a convention is speechmaking. All of the state big-wigs put in quick appearances at the microphone; Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and Ken Buck all spoke. But for my dough, the most interesting exchange took place, not on stage, but in the row directly behind me.
The dialogue occurred between two rank-and-file Republican delegates; one of them a supporter of Donald Trump, the other a backer of Ted Cruz. The Cruz supporter was a woman of advanced age with a telling Texas drawl. The Trump advocate was a guy who sounded as if he could’ve been anywhere from 30 to 60. Their personas were polar opposites of their candidates. The Cruz supporter was aggressive, abrasive and at times, rude. The Trump guy was soft-spoken and polite.
I didn’t have a sound recorder or a note taker of any kind so I’m paraphrasing here, but this is just some of what the Cruz lady said:
“Ted Cruz is a man who will do what he says he’s gonna do. When he was AG in Texas, he went after a couple of illegals who raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl. That’s cast-iron character right there. Donald Trump is a windbag who makes his straw through character assassination. We don’t need a leader like that. Ben Carson is a wimp. I can’t believe he would back a man like Donald Trump!”
The Trump guy didn’t bother to point out to her that she was engaging in the very behavior for which she was criticizing The Donald. The most he ever said was, “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about Trump.”
You could tell he was ready to withdraw from the encounter, but she kept pressing him.
“I just don’t see how Trump supporters can back a man who’s been on every side of an issue. Cruz is a man of his word. Ain’t that what we want in our politicians? When we finally get one, half the party craps out!”
Finally, the Trump guy got up and left. I didn’t blame him.
As for me, it’s strange how you can be on someone’s side on the issues, yet find that they chafe like sand paper underwear. I call it, the Dr. Laura Schlessinger phenomenon.
I could tell you more about the convention; the endless speeches, the transparent ass-kissing from the 597 delegates all wrestling for 13 seats, the ballpark hot dog and Pepsi I had for lunch, thereby emphasizing the sporting nature of the event. But let’s just skip to the part where Ted Cruz showed up.
My pal Bill told me that Cruz was on the schedule for 12:30. Given the nature of national campaigns with their vast arrayed of staff members, Secret Service escorts and death threats, not to mention the protesters (probably Bernie supporters) lurking outside the arena, I found it impressive that Cruz was only a half-hour late. According to my trusty iPhone, it was 1:05 when he took the stage.
At that point, I had forsaken my seat in my row. The noise, the crowd, the stadium-style steps, the confines of the seat strangling my torso, the mouthy Cruz fan behind me…all of these factors conspired to drive me downstairs, where I eavesdropped on Cruz’s speech at the bottom of a stairwell. A third of the way through, an authoritative voice said, “Sir, do you have a seat?”
“Maybe,” I replied.
“Well, I [‘m gonna have to ask you not to stand right here blocking the stairs, sir. It’s a fire hazard.”
“Sure thing,” I said with a smile and walked away. I found another stairwell further down and was careful not to stand directly in front of it. Luckily, the stairs were very close to an amplifier, so I could hear Cruz clearly.
Fire hazard or not, foot traffic was no problem during his speech. The hallway where I stood was absolutely clear. There wasn’t a soul on the steps nor in the area near me. In my mind, I imagined the arena filled to capacity as Cruz delivered his remarks.
Honestly, the speech itself was nothing you couldn’t see on the internet. It was the same platitudes delivered in Cruz’s trademark pseudo-televangelist’s style. The call-and-response nature made me want to hit my knees and beg for salvation. The noteworthy element was the energy that filled the arena. You could almost sense that my fellow delegates and alternates all realized that, despite Cruz’s cheap Reagan imitation, they were living during a distinctive moment in history.
After Cruz was finished, a human tidal wave flooded into the hallway. I flattened myself against the wall and waited as every Cruz supporter in the building headed for the nearest hot dog, soft pretzel and pizza slice.
The reason for the mass exodus became evident when I detected the light tones of a youthful voice coming from the arena. It turned out to be the Trump surrogate. I only caught snippets of his speech, but it sounded as if it was written by Bernie Sanders (or maybe Alex Jones?) as he railed against, “The Establishment,” “International corporate corruption,” and “Honey money politics.” The cheers received were sparse at best.
I missed John Sununu’s speech on behalf of John Kasich. Despite the fact that I believe that Kasich is irrelevant at this point, I must admit that I started to mentally check out after Cruz spoke. Darryl Glenn was a pleasant surprise and won my support. After doing my homework, I chose to support the slate of delegates who were pro-Cruz. I’d pretty much made up my mind by 2 PM and the rest was just fluff. You can only hear so many chest-thumping speeches before your brain begins to switch to cruise control.
The exception to this came during George Brauchler’s short speech. I’ve been partial to Brauchler ever since I heard him as a weekend radio host on KOA. Later, I sat with wrapped attention as he prosecuted the case against James Holmes (aka, the Aurora Theater Shooter.) I appreciate his direct style and plain language. I work in Boulder and my coworkers are a collection of clichéd leftist stereotypes. In a workplace where people are bound and determined that two plus two equals five, it was oddly comforting to be reminded that good and evil are still finite concepts. Brauchler is merely a human being like the rest of us, but sitting there in the cold control room, he served as the voice of justice. I also enjoyed his speech at the county assembly wherein he spoke of his family with evident warmth and affection.
The rest of my time was spent finding a reader for my ballot. Many thanks to J. R. (yes, that’s really his name) and his lovely wife for reading the ballot to me. I never got her name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Sue Ellen. When I left, it was raining and nothing had ever felt so soothing to me.
My first hint of what was to come came the next day as my girlfriend and I returned from her birthday dinner. I glanced at Twitter and saw a lament from Matt Drudge that said:
“Does George Bush have to invade Colorado to make it a democracy? STUNNING Republicans had no primary or caucus. At least Dems are faking it.”
I dismissed this as the all too typical pro-Trump handwringing by Drudge and made a mental note to unfollow his personal Twitter account when I got home the next day. By the time I followed through on said mental note a day later, Trump was shrieking about a crooked, rigged system in Colorado and the national media was running with the ball. The Drudge sirens were shrill with headlines about, “voterless elections,” “stolen delegates,” and “Establishment tyranny.” Trump officials were accusing Cruz of using, “Gestapo tactics.” Colorado Trump delegates claimed that they had been banned from the convention, their names had been left off the ballot and that they were given no true voice at the venue.
The Cruz camp countered that they did their homework, while Trump slacked off by scheduling an event in Colorado Springs the day before the convention, then canceling at the last minute. By late Monday, GOP state chairman Steve House had canceled all interviews with the media and turned off his cell phone.
From this point on, let me be clear about my bias so there’s no mistaking where I stand. Up until March 16, I was a supporter of Marco Rubio. When he suspended his campaign, I switched my loyalty to Ted Cruz. I have done so with a clear conscience. I don’t have high hopes for a Cruz victory in November, but at this point, I’ll take substance over symbolism. I should also make it clear that, as I’ve previously stated in this blog, I will write in a candidate before pulling the lever for Donald Trump. That said, let me correct some of the misnomers that have been flying around since Saturday.
First, the sassy Cruz supporter who sat behind me at the morning session was an anomaly. I overheard many conversations that day and, with that one exception, they were all friendly at their best, civil at their worst. I never witnessed any bullying or intimidation on any side.
Next, Matt Drudge is dead wrong. We did hold a caucus in Colorado. I was there at the Centennial Covenant Church on March 1 where I was chosen to be a delegate to the county assembly and to the state convention. The good folks in my precinct chipped in their own hard-earned money to send me to state because I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet to fund my own trip. When I asked them for their phone numbers so I could reimburse them, they refused. This wasn’t charity or guilt. It was participation in the political process.
Drudge loves to use the term, “Voterless elections,” when referring to the Colorado contest. This is disingenuous. People who bothered to show up had the chance to vote on who they wanted to send to their county and state assembly from each precinct. At the state convention, delegates voted on who they want to send to the national Republican convention in Cleveland. The illusion of a bunch of high-powered leaders in smoke-filled rooms deciding the fate of our election with zero voter input is misleading. If you want to make an argument to me that our election process wasn’t as representative of the average voter as it should have been, I will go along with that. But this is the same way we’ve been exercising representative government for decades. There was nothing deliberately nefarious about the process this year.
It’s also worth mentioning that the number of Trump supporters at our local caucus was very low. We had Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Carson supporters who were all vocal, but not a one for Trump.
The snag comes in because the party did not hold any kind of straw poll. Several people asked our caucus leader if we were going to hold a presidential voice vote before the caucus adjourned and she flatly said no. I thought this was a mistake then and am doubly certain today.
The entire core of anger from the anti-establishment crowd comes from the idea that they no longer have a voice in the process. They believe that the Republican elites in Washington D.C. are consumed by their own interests and no longer care about their base. A straw poll, even a non-binding one, would have gone a long way to mitigate this anger. Instead, it only served to fuel Trump’s very predictable reaction when Cruz swept our state convention.
Never mind that Trump didn’t even try to compete for our state. Never mind that he didn’t do his homework and, thus, was outflanked by Ted Cruz. Never mind that neither he nor his supporters complained about the process until the day after the contest. Trump lost the game and, when he loses, it’s everyone else’s fault but his own. So Trump, populist manipulator, plays on the tangible anger of his own base and mixes a kernel of truth into his mish-mash of lies.
Trump is claiming that the state establishment wanted to thwart him, so they changed the rules last August to favor Cruz. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense! Yes, the state party changed the rules last August, but sabotaging the Donald wasn’t a factor. At that time, only one debate had aired and no one thought Trump was going to get as far as he did. Our mistake. For that matter, no one thought Cruz was going to get as far as he did. Our mistake.
In truth, the reason the party dispensed with the straw poll had to do with past elections. In the 2008 Colorado primary, Mitt Romney was the winner. By the time of our state convention, Romney had dropped out and John McCain was the presumptive national nominee. Yet, the delegates were bound to Romney, which made their initial votes null and void.
Flash forward four years to 2012, when Rick Santorum won the Republican Colorado primary. Once again, Santorum was gone by the time of our state convention, though his delegates were still pledged to him.
The party thought that it would be better to leave the delegates available to see who was left standing on the national stage at our convention. This may have seemed pragmatic at the time, but given the anti-establishment mood that has permeated this election cycle, it proved to be a serious lapse in judgment. And that’s all it was. I don’t believe for a second that it was a vast conspiracy to defraud Trump of his God-given delegates.
The solution to this current public perception crisis is obvious. Colorado needs to switch from a caucus to a primary system. For the record, Chairman Steve House has publicly supported this idea.
Frankly, I like the caucuses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Trump doesn’t do as well in caucus states. I think the voters that show up and spend a little more time at a caucus, rather than simply pulling a lever in a voting booth, are better informed and engaged in the affairs of their community. However, a primary system is more inclusive and allows for the busy schedules of the average voter more than does a caucus.
That said, I am absolutely, unalterably opposed to an open primary. This is the kind of contest that squishy moderates and sneaky political organizers love, because it allows someone from either party to vote in either primary. A closed primary only allows for registered members of a given party to vote in that party’s contests. Why in God’s name would we want Democrats having a say in who we present as our choice for the general election?
Before the state convention, there were already rumblings of a ballot initiative this November that would switch Colorado’s elections from a caucus to a primary. I have no doubt that this controversy will only fuel the fire. I will happily support such a measure, but only if we get closed primaries on both sides. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Donald Trump does better in states with open primaries.
Finally, I will make a sad prediction. Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president. Republicans and right-leaning moderates have about six months to make their peace with the coming reality of President Clinton 2.0. Frankly, this is heartbreaking to me, but this is the hand that Trump has dealt the GOP. This election had so much promise with a diverse field of candidates who, by in large, could have easily trounced Hillary in November. But the thing I feared most has taken hold; the misguided anger of the uninformed voter.
If Trump is selected as our nominee in Cleveland this July, those of us in the Never Trump movement will stay home, or will do as I plan to do and write in a candidate. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I refuse to give the vote that my grandfathers and uncles fought for overseas to an unprincipled, narcissistic opportunist who has no core values. Many other principled conservatives feel the same way.
On the other hand, if Trump is not the nominee, he will throw yet another tantrum, walk out of the hotel and officially start his third-party run. I believe that the stink he’s raising over the Colorado convention is merely a prelude to such a bid. Moreover, I don’t believe that he actually wants to be president. I think he just gets off on the adoration of the big crowds that gather at his rallies. If his campaign manager manhandles an occasional reporter, so much the better. Any media attention is good attention for The Trumpster.
Trump’s disenfranchised base will blindly follow him. It won’t matter if our nominee is Ted Cruz, or a Hail Mary candidate selected at the convention. They won’t care. They’ll either vote for Trump, or just stay home. The Republican Party is deeply fractured and I don’t see a figure who can rise above the fray and unite us in time for November to come around.
Meanwhile, Hillary’s base will unify behind her despite her unlike ability. Yes, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are vocal and passionate, but they’re not going to swing over to Trump, no matter what he claims. They will vote for the lesser of two evils. The only slim chance Republicans have for a victory is if Sanders runs third-party after he loses the Democrat nomination. I don’t see this happening.
Sidebar: Some of my conservative friends hope that Hillary may be indicted over her Email debacle. Obama will never let this happen. He knows that Hillary is the best chance he has of perpetuating his legacy. The Supreme Court vacancy left in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death is the best example of this political reality.
So, there you have it, folks. That was my first (and probably last) dalliance in state politics. I’m glad I participated in the convention, but I doubt that I would ever do it again. I just can’t tolerate noisy crowds the way I did a decade ago.
You know…I wonder if Scalia is having a good laugh right about now. He probably realizes just how futile all of this gamesmanship really is. I guess he can let us know when we get there. In the meantime, this is the world we live in and we can either choose to engage, or sit back and let things happen to us.