As we gratefully leave 2016 behind and warily entertain the idea of political life in 2017, we in Colorado must ask ourselves two basic questions:
What the hell just happened?
What the hell’s gonna happen now?
To answer either, we need to take a close look at the role Colorado played in the country’s weirdest political year since at least 1968. The year of The Donald proved, if nothing else, that everything most of us thought we knew was entirely wrong. And though it still feels too soon to try to digest much of that, the calendar has its own peculiar logic. We used to say that the future was now. Well, now we may get the future and the past together in one strange Trumpian blast.
As Trump shocked everyone by winning the presidency, Colorado was both entirely predictable and entirely unpredictable. The predictable: Trump lost in Colorado. He had to lose Colorado, even against the not-particularly-popular Hillary Clinton. Colorado is too educated, too urban, too demographically difficult for Trump to have won, particularly in a high-turnout presidential election year. On the other hand, Trump was supposed to lose in a lot of places that he did win, starting with the swing-state sweepstakes. While Trump won narrowly in many of the swing states, and thus the Electoral College, Colorado stayed consistently blue.
The unpredictable: How about the Colorado delegation’s mini-walkout at the Republican Convention? How about the Ted Cruz delegate sweep? How about the Trump charge that Colorado’s caucuses were rigged? How about the Gardner-Trump Twitter feud? How about the Darryl Glenn endorsement, un-endorsement and re-endorsement? How about Jon Keyser’s dog?
On the Dem side, how about the Hamilton Electors’ attempt at revolution (and the bizarre attempt by Secretary of State Wayne Williams to get one “faithless elector” indicted)? How about Morgan Carroll getting clobbered by Mike Coffman two years after Coffman had clobbered Andrew Romanoff? (I have no idea why or how Coffman became invincible, but the question now is whether he’s ready to give that invincibility a try in the 2018 governor’s race.) How about John Hickenlooper’s shocking near-veep experience, and what it teaches us about drinking fracking solution?
Should we look closer? Can you stand it?
It seems strange, but the biggest loser of 2016 could be Cory Gardner, who incautiously made an enemy of Trump, assuming, as we all did, that Trump would/could never win the presidency. There was Gardner-as-Rubio-surrogate calling Trump a buffoon. There was Gardner walking out on the GOP convention/Trump coronation. There was Gardner as Colorado defender wondering how Trump could handle Putin if he couldn’t even figure out the Colorado convention (a point very much still worth considering). And then there was Gardner, having refused to vote for Trump, on the losing side — a place he has assiduously avoided in his career —now having to figure out how to get on Trump’s good side before Trump exacts revenge. So far, Gardner has been busily attacking an outgoing Obama, pretending that Trump’s victory never happened. It worked for Gardner on that federal personhood bill, but I’m thinking that was so 2014.
Another loser was Hickenlooper, who has spent his entire political career pretending not to be a politician and particularly pretending not to be a Democratic politician. But in 2016, he went from effective nonpartisan to laughably ineffective attack dog on Trump. It was painful to see his tweets, which were so un-Hick-like, but, hey, they got him that surprise veep interview. He was never going to get the vice-presidential nod because environmentalists would have walked out on Clinton, but he was there, and pretty certain to have gotten a Cabinet post if he’d wanted one (and it seems he did). Instead, he helped deliver Colorado to Clinton, and for his reward he gets another two seasons of a split Colorado legislature, with Republicans having held on to their one-vote Senate majority.
OK, Darryl Glenn. Do not blame Darryl Glenn for being Darryl Glenn. He warned the GOP what they were in for, calling himself an unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative, pro- life, second-amendment-loving veteran who thought the biggest problem in Washington was that Republicans were too quick to cave. That’s a losing resume in purple-state Colorado, and everyone knew that except the Republican primary voters who nominated him. Of course, he was worse than that. The national Republicans deserted him. He never put together a workable campaign. The Russians were so unmoved they didn’t even bother to hack Michael Bennet. The miracle is that Glenn came within six points of Bennet, which showed just how vulnerable Bennet actually was. (Bennet was a putative winner, if you think getting six more years in dysfunctional Washington is winning.)
Of course, the Senate race was a GOP disaster even before Glenn won. The Republican establishment couldn’t find a viable candidate to run against Bennet, and when they finally settled on Jon Keyser, well, you know what happened. The quality of some recent GOP candidates — Dan Maes, Tom Tancredo, Ken Buck, Bob Beauprez, Bob Schaffer, to name but a few — has been a problem, but the party hope is that by the end of 2017, they’ll have viable candidates in line to run for the open governor’s seat in 2018. (Some guesses: Mike or Cynthia Coffman, George Brauchler, Wayne Williams, Walker Stapleton, John Suthers.) They’d better get someone viable because Colorado Republicans have won only one top-of-the-ballot race since 2004.
It’s too early to tell how 2016 will have turned out for Ken Salazar. He was, you might remember, Clinton’s choice to head up her transition team, and might have ended up as her attorney general or something if Clinton hadn’t forgotten to win. Blame Comey or the Russians or the media if you like, it doesn’t help Salazar now. Instead, he is the leading Dem candidate in the 2018 governor’s race, if he runs — which was, Democrats thought, a sure thing before the Clinton offer. And now? Salazar will have to decide whether the magic still holds for a moderate Democrat in a state party that has definitely moved left. I’m told that Cary Kennedy plans to run whether or not Salazar gets in. Mike Johnston wants to run. Joe Salazar will probably run as a Bernie-style progressive. If Ken Salazar doesn’t run, would Ed Perlmutter be tempted? It could get crowded on both sides.
Before you think too hard about it, remember that Prop 108 passed in November, and assuming it is implemented by 2018, it will mean that unaffiliated voters can vote in primaries without proclaiming a party choice. Some of the unaffiliated are true independents; some just aren’t joiners. The idea is that independents could bring either or both parties closer to the center, but no one really knows.
What we do know is that the unexpected is possible in 2017 — after all, it follows 2016, when we learned that even the impossible was possible.
Image created with Google Deep Dream Generator