Direct democracy has a long tradition in Colorado. Since the late 19th century, Colorado has employed plebiscitary democracy on numerous issues. It’s easy to put laws and tax increases up for a statewide vote. Moreover, over the past 25 years, all proposed tax increases must be approved by a majority of the voters. It has worked relatively well, and statewide taxes have been essentially unchanged for more than two decades. The wealthy elites of the state hate this, but they haven’t yet found a way to put the voters in their place. (It was these same voters, by the way, that legalized marijuana several years ago. The “leaders” in the business and political spheres hated that too.)
To watch the Republican Party in Colorado, though, you’d never know that voting and direct democracy are something that people value in the state. In fact, you’d think that the political climate here was founded on obfuscation, elitism, and rank cynicism.
Those are the values that guide the Colorado GOP in recent years, of course, although the Republican way of doing things has yet to permeate the larger culture which means that Democrats continue to advance primarily due to Republican ineptitude.
Recently, the rest of the country got a look at how bizarre, silly, and irrational the Republican caucus system is in Colorado. I don’t know how the Dems do it, or how other states do it — I doubt they’re a whole lot better — but things at GOP meetings really are as awful as they appear.
Back in 2008 —in ancient times when I was a Republican — I experienced the misfortune of being a Ron Paul delegate at the statewide convention. If you want to imagine what one of these conventions is like, just imagine the social scene back in high school. There was a small number of “cool kids” who held most of the power. Those who held views similar to the cool kids were rewarded. Those who held beliefs contrary to the cool kids were shouted down, and the majority was encouraged to treat all dissenters with disdain. The only reason any Ron Paul delegates managed to make it to the state convention at all was because the Republican Party leadership was so used to everyone doing what they were told. The Party had not prepared itself ahead of time to crush all opposition. This year, they were better prepared.
Back in 2008, the “correct” view was to regard ISIS-supporter John McCain as the greatest American in the history of the Republic and to unwaveringly support his nomination so he could crush Obama in the general election.
Nowadays, the correct position within the Colorado GOP is to support Ted Cruz. I’m sure all Trump supporters were told they weren’t “real Republicans” (whatever that even means) and that Cruz, like McCain, was the most “electable.”
It’s rather laughable that the caucus system is put out there by Republican activist types — many of whom are knee-jerk anti-democracy types — that caucusing is somehow more “rational” and less subject to “mob rule” than an ordinary primary, in which all Republicans would be able to vote. Those video clips of delegates being paraded up to give ten-second speeches well illustrates the true amount of rational debate and discussion that takes place at these conventions: there isn’t any. Mob rule is alive and well at GOP conventions. The numbers are simply smaller.
The process is designed so that a majority of people present (that is, a majority of party activists and hacks who have immense amounts of free time to attend these meetings) steamroll everyone else.
Considering this, we’re forced to conclude that Trump likely had no chance of winning a majority of delegates at the state convention even under slightly different rules. Most of Trump’s supporters are working-class types outside the Party’s activist core, and few of them understand the convoluted delegate process. Basically, considering the Party rules, Cruz won fair and square.
That said, most of those who are defending the GOP process don’t realize how out-of-touch they look. Party hacks are so devoted to their little club that they are blinded to how corrupt and fixed it looks to outsiders. Anyone who hasn’t drunk the political-party Kool-Aid can see that the entire system is rigged to favor the chosen favorites of the elites. Slogans put out by apologists for the party system such as “parties are private organizations!” and “we’re a republic not a democracy!” just make them look all the more divorced from the general public’s views of how politics should work.
Many of those on the outside recognize — whether they say it explicitly or not — that the party system exists to limit voter choice to the favored candidates of wealthy elites in both parties. Hillary Clinton is the poster girl for this, and Ted Cruz — who was endorsed by Jeb Bush — isn’t much different. It’s a rigged game and party-hack shouts of “it’s a two-party system, deal with it!” doesn’t make the that reality go away.
But would Trump have managed to win if the state had a normal primary? That’s doubtful. Trump’s success in the interior West has been spotty, and outside Arizona and Nevada, Trump doesn’t appear to have a solid base. Immigration really isn’t much of an issue in Colorado where the economy is in relatively good shape and no one particularly cares where you’re from, or who’s a citizen and who’s not. As long as you have a job, no one bothers to form a strong opinion about you. Only the rube-est of rubes feel “threatened” by overhearing someone speak Spanish at the supermarket. Moreover, Coloradans tend to be more libertarian than “control-freak-nationalist” which is Trump’s apparent ideology. (Cruz is far from being a libertarian, of course. He simply benefits form the lack of enthusiasm for Trump.) Recall, after all, that Trump originally opposed marijuana legalization in Colorado, declaring just last June, in response to a question about legalization: “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”
Trump later reversed himself after someone with a brain told him that if he had any plans to actually win the electoral college, he’d better change his opinion. I guess Trump didn’t “feel strongly about it” after all.
Also, Coloradans don’t like being bossed around by New Yorkers. Michael Bloomberg, for example, has been meddling in the state for years, funding gun-control initiatives. Maybe local voters have NY-Billionaire fatigue.
If Colorado had held a winner-take-all primary, it’s likely that someone other than Trump would have walked away with all the delegates anyway. The problem for the Party here is that the whole PR debacle surrounding the Colorado process has exposed how the party system is a convoluted, insiders-only game for the cool kids. Many unaffiliated voters — who comprise one third of voters in the state — may remember this for a while.
This is just the latest black eye for the Colorado GOP, by the way, which over the past decade has developed a tradition of flushing statewide elections down the toilet. Even New Mexico, which — demographically speaking — should be solid Democrat territory, has GOP control of both the governor’s mansion and the State Senate. The Republicans in Colorado, where the GOP should be able to win many elections easily, have lost three gubernatorial races in a row, multiple US Senate races, and can barely hang on to even control of one house of the legislature every now and then. No one should be surprised.