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opinion | Colorado provides evidence that GOP ‘trouble entertainment’ doesn’t work


Jim Geraghty is senior political correspondent for National Review.

DENVER – Colorado is a strange state. This month, state voters passed 54 percent to 46 percent of a ballot measure to legalize the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, but the same voters narrowly passed a ballot measure that allowed supermarkets to sell both beers and Wine.

But when the 2024 election comes around, you probably need magic mushrooms or a Coors ‘n’ Cabernet cocktail to imagine that the state will be similarly unpredictable if Republicans stay on their current trajectory.

Heading into Election Day, Colorado’s problems looked like many other states: inflation is high, crime is on the rise, and President Biden’s approval rating in Colorado was just 40 percent, according to Civiq’s poll. But voters reelected Democratic state Gov. Jared Polis by 19 percentage points and Democratic US Senator Michael Bennet by 14 percentage points, with many Democrats winning by easy votes and Democratic majorities in the Legislature now lopsided.

The redistribution of districts adjusted the district boundaries, but all incumbent members of the US House of Representatives were re-elected. The surprise of the year was Republican controversy maven Lauren Boebert, who as of this writing narrowly won re-election in a heavily Republican district by 554 votes. Her Democratic rival, Adam Frisch, far surpassed expectations by asking voters if they were tired of Boebert’s brand of “anger entertainment.”

Not long ago in Colorado – 2014 – Republican Cory Gardner won a hard-fought Senate race and Republicans won the race for Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer. Colorado was purple then, a place where Republicans could win if the political winds were right.

Yes, the GOP has underperformed on many counts this year, but the limits of “anger” were perhaps most vividly illustrated here, a crude lesson in the diminishing returns of an approach to government that makes the mistake of “denying liberties.” own” to get things done for constituents.

The razor-thin near-rejection of Boebert — from a district Donald Trump won in 2020 by an eight-point margin and covering much of the western half of the state — demonstrates the Trump-esque style of ramping performative outrage to 11 hit a hard Cap among voters, which repels not only Democrats and independents, but apparently a thin but crucial segment of Republicans as well. It’s probably no coincidence that the last good year for Colorado Republicans was before Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign.

If you’re a Republican looking to run for office — in Colorado or elsewhere — there are two ways to garner support. You can meet local party leaders, perform at all kinds of public events, be active in your community, and build a track record. But that is difficult and takes time.

A much quicker and easier way to stand out is to be the most outspoken, controversial, and arguably craziest contestant — and almost all of the overlapping media environments of mainstream media, conservative media, and social media are fueled by “You won” stories Don’t believe what this GOP candidate says or does!”

In Republican circles there is probably no media company more consumed than Fox News. In a crowded, or even not-so-crowded, GOP field, appearing on Fox News almost every hour is a great way to build name identification and attract potential donors and supporters. And in the Trump era, appearing on Fox News was the best way to get on the president’s radar screen and get one of those all-important Trump endorsements. “Fury”? Trump loved it.

The problem is that Tucker Carlson’s prime-time programming draws 3 million viewers on a typical night, an impressive total for cable news prime-time. But that’s a small, small fraction of the entire electorate, and it’s a niche audience.

More than 118 million Americans cast their ballots in the 2018 midterm elections, and when all votes are counted for this year, the final tally will likely be about the same. The electorate is made up of tens of millions of people who will never watch Fox News — not necessarily out of ideological animus, but because they don’t find it funny to watch people talk politics with lots of red graphics and chyrons whizzing across the screen before they go to bed. That doesn’t mean they will never vote Republican; That means Fox News isn’t an effective way to reach them, nor is it enough to advocate for a candidate’s voting.

During the Trump presidency and into 2022, many Republican candidates believed that what appealed to Fox News audiences would appeal to enough people across the electorate, county or statewide, to win a race. The midterms showed how wrong that is; Boebert, holding onto her seat by her fingernails, suggests that the outlandish, intrusive, larger-than-life viral social media personas that are attracting Trump and perhaps the network’s bookers are just enough to get you to 50 percent bring in a republican neighborhood.

Colorado Republicans need some new ideas and fresh approaches for 2024. They’re in a mountain of trouble.

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