Opinion | Tony Jones: Republican candidates need to pay attention

My non-scientific assessment of the results of the recent midterm elections in Colorado and Summit County make it evident that statewide we’ve gone from a purple state to a solidly blue state. In Summit County voters supported Democratic candidates by 30 percentage points or more over their Republican opponents. Even in solidly conservative District 3, just west of us, it appears the incumbent will just barely hold on to her congressional seat in a race that she should have easily won. 

As an unaffiliated and moderate voter who wishes for balance in government, I’m seeing red flags flapping in Colorado’s political winds with the Democrats retaining single-party rule for yet another election cycle. Single-party rule tends to empower the extreme elements in that party, exacerbating the loss of the checks and balances that interparty rivalry engenders. So the Republican party’s underwhelming performance in Colorado is not really beneficial to anyone. It makes me worry that, after the failure of this year’s roster of mostly moderate Republican candidates, the party may switch to more extreme candidates in the next election cycle.

What can Republicans do to become more relevant in Colorado politics? They can start by admitting they’ve got an image problem and understanding that the MAGA element is still very much a part of that tainted image. Republican candidates must distance themselves from those elements by coming out forcefully against candidates in their party that cling to election denialism and/or portray the Jan. 6 insurrection as something other than the threat to our democracy it was. And they must reject resorting to election shenanigans to win majorities and instead promote policies that appeal to voters. 

The Republican party needs to drop the culture war issues they advocate, issues that only further divide our country. Their driving force for seeking office needs to be implementing strategies that makes folks’ lives better across the entire demographic base of our country. These strategic issues could include addressing the economy and crime in ways that make sense to all elements of our society, not just the conservative ones.

In Colorado, Republicans must demonstrate that they understand who the electorate in the state is and what motivates them to vote. A good place to start would be giving full throated support of women’s reproductive rights, versus the tepid and qualified support that O’Dea offered. They can also address taxation in a manner that shows they understand that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Ganahl’s plan to eliminate state income taxes in Colorado was a bridge too far for voters, many of whom had to wonder how the gaps in the state budget this move would create would be filled. If you’re going to eliminate the income tax, you have to cut programs and/or raise taxes elsewhere in the budget, and voters understood that and rightfully rejected Ganahl and her plan.

Colorado Republicans also need to find a way to differentiate themselves from the national party. Nationally, the party achieved a longtime goal in building out a U.S. Supreme Court that is firmly in the conservative camp. However, in a case of “watch what you ask for, you may just get it”, that high court has become a political liability due to its repeal of Roe and common-sense gun laws. These rulings have alienated potential Republican voters, and the party may need to find a way to push back against its own creation. Recent election results have shown that most Americans, including those in red states, are not OK with the direction this ultra-conservative court is taking us.

There may be some Republican politicians who are getting the message, as evidenced by the bipartisan push for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would secure the right to marriage for all Americans. But there remains a tone-deaf component in the party that seem to side with Justice Clarence Thomas’ musings on the future of same sex marriage and contraception. 

If U.S. democracy represents government of the people and for the people, it should be more supportive of the beliefs that most Americans hold. The 2022 midterm election results were a warning to the GOP that its brand of politics is not in line with that of the majority of the people they seek to govern. 

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