Donald Trump won plenty of swing states in the November election, but Colorado wasn’t one of them.
It wasn’t close: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took 48 percent of Colorado’s votes to Trump’s 43 percent. Trump didn’t win a single Colorado delegate at the Colorado Republican convention. He won only four at the national convention, which saw a walkout against Trump organized by a Colorado Republican, a leader in the #NeverTrump movement. In December, the state made headlines as a major participant in the Hamilton elector movement, an attempt by some Electoral College voters to elect anyone but Trump.
Why did the 45th president, who surprised the nation by carrying states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, fail to win over Colorado voters? And does his loss here portend a continued resistance to his presidency in the coming years? The Colorado Independent spoke with a few experts to find out.
Former Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call says Trump’s loss in our square state stems largely from demographics.
“In Colorado, there’s this romantic idea of the West — cornfields and mountains — but if you really look at it, the vast majority of our population lives in an urban or suburban setting,” Call said. That means Colorado votes more like cities do, and that Coloradans were more likely to reject some of Trump’s most inflammatory campaign promises. “Trump’s rhetoric with respect to immigrants and minorities was perceived by leftist groups as hostile to minority groups, and I think that hurt him here.”
Research by Magellan Strategies, a Colorado survey research and campaign strategy firm that has worked with the Republican National Committee, supports that idea.
“A lot of Trump’s success in states like Michigan and Wisconsin has been attributed to blue collar white voters who are kind of hard on their luck, who wanted a change,” said Ryan Winger, Magellan’s director of research. “If you look at Colorado, there just simply aren’t as many voters who fit that criteria.”
Winger added, “There weren’t enough voters here who were feeling that kind of economic pain or frustration. And that means they go to the next level when it comes to deciding who they want to vote for; they aren’t voting straight with their pocketbooks.”
There’s evidence for this idea, Call says, in Pueblo, a county that he calls Colorado’s “closest analogue” to the communities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia that carried those states for Trump. “You think of Pueblo as solidly blue collar, working class, with union roots — and Trump won there.”
Call also attributes Trump’s failure here on Colorado’s decision not to hold a GOP presidential primary, which may have left state Republicans feeling alienated from the political process in general. “The vast majority of Coloradans felt like they didn’t have a say at all, and were forced to accept Trump,” he said.
He says that could be why many Coloradans who originally supported Democrat Bernie Sanders in the caucuses were ultimately willing to show up for Clinton in November. “If your candidate loses in the primary but you still had a say in the process, you’re much more likely to support the eventual overall outcome.”
Call adds that Trump didn’t have the support within the state that Clinton did, pointing to the resistance against him by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Sen. Cory Gardner. “Clinton was able to plug right into existing political infrastructure, whereas there were very few Republican elected officials for the Trump campaign to take advantage of,” he said.
State Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat, thinks Colorado voters’ independent bent made them less susceptible to Trump. “We have a very Libertarian spirit here in Colorado,” he said. “When [Trump] talks, he talks as if the grand design of the federal government is going to take over things, and I think people are concerned about that.”
Salazar also thinks Colorado’s rejection of Trump — and the spirit that led it to do so — portends the state’s continued resistance against what he sees as some of the most dangerous aspects of the 45th president’s administration, like deportation of undocumented immigrants, the creation of a Muslim registry and a proliferation of oil and gas development on federal lands. Salazar has even proposed a bill, called the Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act, to give the state the power not to follow federal policies it disagrees with, a right he says the state already has under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The bill is named after Colorado conservative Ralph Carr, who resisted anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, and Salazar hopes that will inspire Colorado Republicans to vote for it. “It’s in their color wheel — it’s a state’s rights bill,” he said. And the bill, he says, is in line with a lot of Colorado values, on both sides of the aisle. ““Selling off public lands? We don’t do that in the state of Colorado. It’s not radical to say we’re not going to participate in a Muslim registry, or to provide information to the federal government for illegal or unconstitutional purposes.”
Winger says it’s impossible to tell just yet whether the state will continue to resist Trump. “It all depends on how [The Trump administration] goes about pushing their agenda, and whether they are willing to make a compelling case to the voters here in Colorado who decide elections — the unaffiliated,” he said.
But Call is optimistic that despite not wholly supporting Trump, Coloradans — and the state’s elected officials — will cooperate with the new president.
“I think it will be collaborative and ultimately very productive relationship,” he said. “It may not be pretty — we may see more presidential veto overrides, for example — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably a good thing for our country and our political system to have a check over a leader, even one whose party you agree with.”
Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Creative Commons, Flickr
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Donald Trump received no delegates at the Republican National Convention. He received four delegates.