Politics & Policy

The Revolution Will Not Be Quelled — GOP Voters Shake Up the System in Colorado

Ted Cruz speaks at the Colorado GOP convention, April 9, 2016. (Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty)

Pollster Pat Caddell has worked for candidates going as far back as George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972.  In all this time, during which his politics have evolved into “raging centrism,” he has never seen Americans so bent on upending the establishment. “Politics in the United States today is a revolution, not a revolt,” he and co-authors Scott Miller and Bob Perkins wrote at the Huffington Post in February, predicting that 2016 would be “an election of insurgency.” Evidence of this goes far beyond the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders insurrections. Caddell’s February polling found that

‐70 percent of voters agree that the federal government today no longer has the consent of the people.

‐79 percent want to support more candidates who are ordinary citizens rather than professional politicians and lawyers.

‐A majority would join a third party if it had a chance to win.

‐77 percent prefer candidates who “take on the political elites and special interests” to those who conform to a fixed ideology.

Caddell’s revolutionary moment could be seen up close and personal this weekend at the state convention of the Colorado Republican party in Colorado Springs. What happened was stunning. Ted Cruz, considered a fringe candidate by the media until four months ago, swept 34 of the 37 delegate slots for the Cleveland convention. Donald Trump placed second, and there was scant support for any establishment figure.

When picking a nominee to challenge Democratic senator Michael Bennet this fall, GOP delegates shocked everyone by humiliating front-runner state senator Tim Neville and his powerful gun-rights backers. Neville didn’t even meet the threshold needed to appear on the state’s June 28 primary ballot.

“I’m tired of hearing about Republicans reaching across the aisle. We need to step up and lead, ladies and gentlemen.”

— Darryl Glenn

Instead, they gave 70 percent of the vote to Darryl Glenn, a 49-year-old former Air Force lieutenant colonel who now is a county commissioner in Colorado Springs. The charismatic Glenn gave a rousing speech to the crowd on debt, ending federal funding of sanctuary cities, and the Iran nuclear deal. He called himself a “Christian constitutionalist conservative.” The biggest applause line came when Glenn, an African American, declared, “I hope the reporters are listening, because I’ve got news for them: All lives matter.”

He then made a direct appeal to Republicans who believe that party leaders in Washington have squandered their control of both houses of Congress and been passive in fighting President Obama: “I’m tired of hearing about Republicans reaching across the aisle. We need to step up and lead, ladies and gentlemen.”

Glenn has the momentum coming out of this weekend’s convention, but in the June primary he will still have to defeat four challengers who used an alternate signature-gathering route to secure a place on the ballot. Nevertheless, Glenn is clearly now the man to beat.

#share#Glenn’s victory wasn’t the only surprise on Saturday in Colorado Springs. Calandra Vargas, a 32-year-old staffer for a GOP state senator, decided in just the last few days to challenge Representative Doug Lamborn, a five-term incumbent from Colorado Springs. Only a few years ago, Vargas was an intern in Lamborn’s congressional office.

At the district convention that was held to nominate candidates for Congress, Vargas gave a passionate speech, saying the party needed new blood and enthusiasm. She contrasted herself with Lamborn, a 61-year-old incumbent:

Do you want a congressman who shows up at election season and gives a nice speech and a list of things you want to hear? Or do you want a congresswoman who is an outspoken leader, who won’t settle, who is a team player, who will confront liberals, and who also believes it is her job to make the Republican party a party we can all be proud of? . . . It’s time to fight back against puppet-string-pulling elites.

As a write-in candidate, Vargas stunned everyone by winning 58 percent of delegate votes while Lamborn was held to 35 percent. Under the convention’s rules, Lamborn would have been blocked from appearing on the ballot if Vargas had won only 18 more votes. Because there is no Democrat running in the fall in the solidly GOP district, she would instantly have become a congresswoman.

Now Vargas will have to build a campaign from scratch (she doesn’t even have a website) to challenge the well-funded Lamborn in the June primary. No one knows if she can sustain her insurgency, and Lamborn made clear that he won’t go away easily. “I will be using this time to demonstrate that, unlike my opponent, I have the proven record of conservative leadership and achievement,” he told reporters.

In an editorial titled “It’s Not Your Grandpa’s GOP,” the Colorado Springs-Gazette noted that this year’s GOP convention was like none it had ever seen:

The convention was a showcase of diversity among candidates and a long parade of white, black, Indian, straight, gay, male and female speakers in positions of power. Nothing resembled the party’s old established white male image. . . . The Republican Party is getting a political blood transfusion. . . . Democrats should take heed. They aren’t facing grandpa’s old GOP this year.

What happened in Colorado is just a snapshot of the roiling political waters that campaign 2016 has become. Other signs of voter unrest are Donald Trump’s dramatic success as an outsider and Bernie Sanders’s astonishing staying power against the Clinton machine (he has beaten Hillary in seven of the last eight contests and is within hailing distance of her in the New York primary).

#related#Sometimes voters searching for authenticity and candidates who will challenge elites can be taken advantage of by shape-shifting con artists (see Trump). Sometimes they can be led astray into ideological blind canyons (see the appeal of Bernie Sanders–style socialism among the young). But much of the voter revolt we’re witnessing this year is legitimate; voters are making coherent criticisms of the status quo. Political elites in both parties might not like the voter unrest happening at the ground level, but if they think this rebellion will fade away without elites’ having to make real changes in their behavior, they will merely set the stage for an even bigger revolution from below in the future.

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