Have the Colorado Republicans come undone?

(Denver Post, Oct. 10) “Not so fast,” warns the movie hero. He’ll make sure the cad or the con man doesn’t get away with it. One side in American politics has always been the party of “not so fast,” putting the brakes on expansive government power. Today that’s the Republican Party, and they serve the common good in doing it, even when unsuccessful.

But I’m concerned that in the governor’s race this year, Colorado Republicans may be so unsuccessful that their restraining influence on political overreach is lost for a long time. Even the most fervent Democrats, if they remember the corruption of power, shouldn’t relish that prospect – though one can see why they’re keeping gleefully silent as Tom Tancredo and Dan Maes rip each other.

Voting begins this week. The worry du jour last week was demotion of the GOP to minor-party status if Maes finishes under 10 percent. I don’t think he will, but he obviously won’t win either. In the likely outcome of Democrat John Hickenlooper winning, or the unlikely outcome of the freelancer Tancredo prevailing, the one certainty on Nov. 3 is a defeated, divided, and demoralized Republican establishment – which doesn’t augur well for constitutionalism.

What’s constitutionalism, and who cares? We all should. Our written constitution of self-government, in this state or the United States, is only as strong as the unwritten traditions of fair competition and civic virtue – habits of the heart, as they have been called – that sustain America as a caring community of free people. A jungle ethos of winning at any cost endangers all that. Let’s not go there.

Too many on the right in Colorado, I’m sorry to say, already have. To be clear: While this party stalwart is firmly on record as supporting neither Maes nor Tancredo nor Hickenlooper, I have GOP friends in each man’s camp – and our friendship will survive the disagreement. The purpose here is to analyze attitudes, not to slam personalities. The slamming is what has to stop.

Reversing early assurances that he wouldn’t run an anti-Maes campaign, Tom has. On Dan’s side, a frothing anti-Tancredo screed is now online, slinging slurs like “chicken hawk.” It’s more bitter than a primary because there’s no intra-party comity to damp the invective. Tom says he’ll govern as a Republican if elected—but it wasn’t long ago he emphatically disavowed the party label, and mocked Lincoln for good measure.

Political memories aren’t short. Even if Ken Buck wins, some congressional seats flip, and Democrats suffer legislative losses, a self-wounded GOP will be disadvantaged under the gold dome after this cannibalistic governor’s race. As tax pressures intensify and Obama girds for reelection, Colorado is going to need a party of “not so fast.” Who will it be? The American Constitution Party can’t mount a defense when liberals go on offense.

Whether Tancredo’s ambition succeeds this time, or fizzles as it did in the presidential primaries, many in my party will need to think long and hard about whether the end justifies the means. Maes’s undeniable weaknesses were but a relative excuse, not an absolute justification, for mass desertion of the Republican nominee. Somehow the McInnis disease, scorning party standard-bearers in 2006 and 2008, went epidemic in 2010.

Abandoning long-established institutions for “light and transient causes” violates conservative prudence, the Declaration of Independence warns. Many of the GOP’s finest, including three of Tom’s congressional colleagues, have gambled unconservatively this fall.

They used to say the Episcopal Church was the Republican regulars at prayer. The Tancredo movement seems like the regulars on a fling. Might all this, in hindsight, prove an overreaction? Have we destroyed the village to save it? “She’s come undone,” sang the Guess Who. I hope I’m wrong in applying that to our state’s Grand Old Party.

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