Littwin: We don’t do debates
Now we have the new unofficial election rules in Colorado: It takes only two votes to effectively cut off debate in the Republican gubernatorial primary campaign. One vote from Tom Tancredo and a second from Scott Gessler.
Neither should come as any surprise. These are two guys who are not exactly exemplars of the democratic way.
Tancredo once seriously — although you can never tell with Tom — suggested that Barack Obama was elected, in part, because “we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote … People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.”
He made this suggestion as the keynote speaker at a Tea Party convention. He later told Westword that he was surprised anyone would think his suggestion was racist because he got the idea from a “black guy” who was studying for his citizenship test.
Apparently, Tancredo forgot about all the “black guys” who were excluded from registering to vote by way of the literacy test. But, in any case, I’m guessing that most voters — whether or not they are champion spellers — know better than to call Obama a “committed socialist ideologue.” Of course, on another occasion, Tancredo took it a few steps further by calling Obama a “dedicated Marxist.” Tancredo may have some problems with democracy, but he’s very big on demagoguery.
And Gessler? Well, we know he has spent most of his time as secretary of state either hunting down phantom fraudulent voters — remember that list he took to Congress? — or trying to limit the number of registered voters who automatically get mail ballots because, although he had no evidence of it, he was pretty sure this would lead to something bad. (This is just a guess, but maybe the bad thing was, like, you know, Democrats winning.)
So, Tancredo said it first — that he wasn’t going to participate in the debates because the debates would provide fodder for Democratic attack ads. Or, as he told the Denver Post, “We made a decision … to forgo these venues in order to reduce the number of self-inflicted wounds that emanate out of these encounters.”
Let’s consider what Tancredo actually means and, while we’re at it, whether self-inflicted wounds can, in fact, emanate. For Tancredo, self-inflicted wounds are a way of life. Start with his bomb-Mecca tirade and go from there. He’s right. Every debate would be an opportunity to say something that would remind voters that being governor is a serious job and Tancredo is an unserious person.
Or as Greg Brophy put it at the time, “He doesn’t want to show people how unprepared he is to be governor.”
Of course, Brophy is running for governor, too. He and Mike Kopp — the two prominent underdogs, both well schooled in the issues — need these debates. Which is why, presumably, Gessler has also dropped out. He would make for the biggest remaining target, and he would give Brophy and Kopp the chance to make points at his expense.
And yet, it’s a scandal, really, for the secretary of state, the state’s top election official, to refuse to participate in debates. It’s the anti-civics lesson. It’s a single-finger salute (oh, I forgot, that was Tancredo, in another self-inflicted wound) to the voters, saying it’s just not his responsibility to debate the issues so that the Republican primary voters can understand the differences among the candidates.
Tancredo gave Gessler cover by being Tancredo — and not really caring what anyone thinks. In truth, Democrats don’t need debates to find Tancredo footage. All you need is the Google. But in Republican debates, Tancredo can’t want primary voters to be reminded — as Brophy reminded them in the lone Republican forum — that Tancredo last ran for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket. But I wonder — and Gessler must wonder, too — if voters will demand more from someone who isn’t Tancredo.
And there’s more to it than that. There’s a reason why Republicans keep losing in Colorado. At debates, someone will ask about personhood. And about no-exceptions abortion. And about immigration reform. And about gay marriage. And about evolution. I remember when Tancredo was running for president — I’ll pause here for the laughter to die down — and he was one of three candidates to raise his hand when asked who didn’t believe in evolution. The last thing Republican leaders want is a primary debate that turns into a purity contest.
Still, the likely winner in all this is, of course, John Hickenlooper. If Tancredo or Gessler wins the nomination, Hickenlooper will be able to get a pass when he inevitably tries to limit the number of debates. The inevitable not-so-righteous indignation from the challenger would be treated as a joke.
Or, as Tancredo would put it, another self-inflicted wound.
[ Image by Andre D’Macedo ]
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