Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Politics

Armstrong: The high cost of political cynicism

To say that I’m outraged about the events of January 6 is a vast understatement. A mob of Donald Trump’s supporters violently invaded the U.S. Capitol, murdered a police officer, assaulted and threatened to murder other officers, attempted to harm elected representatives, called for the murder of the vice president, paraded a Confederate Flag through the Capitol to celebrate their sedition, and sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of presidential power. Capitol police had to shoot and kill one perpetrator attempting to breach a secured area; a total of five people died as a result of the assault.

What does this have to do with Colorado politics? A lot, unfortunately. Several high-profile Colorado Republicans promoted Trump’s fraudulent claims about election fraud that motivated the Capitol assault.

Some, such as Representatives Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, are smart enough to know that Trump is a two-bit huckster who lied about election fraud, just as he lied about Barack Obama’s birthplace, Ted Cruz’s father’s link to the JFK assassination, and thousands of other things. Trump built his political career on lies and conspiracy mongering. As the Central Park case illustrates, Trump’s approach has always been to gin up heated emotions and simply ignore all relevant facts. Why is anyone surprised that Trump also lied about a “stolen” election? He clearly signaled well before the election that he’d make such claims if he lost.

So why did Colorado Republican leaders such as Buck and Lamborn play along? David French, who runs down many of the relevant claims, quotes Senator Ben Sasse on this point: “We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong…Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”

It was never supposed to go that far. Trump’s most delusional supporters weren’t actually supposed to go and murder a cop (himself a Trump supporter), smash up the Capitol, and put the security of the United States at profound risk. They were just supposed to keep hating Democrats, yelling loudly, voting Republican, and sending their dollars to Republican campaigns. They were supposed to take all this talk of a stolen election seriously but not literally. I mean, don’t these dumb-ass people realize this is politics? Cynicism is the game, right? They didn’t realize this was all theater.

Buck, unwilling to play the cynic’s game to its conclusion, pulled away from Trump’s madness several days before the Capitol assault. For that he deserves partial credit. Yet, even in his January 3 letter on the matter (in which he joined several other members of Congress), he expressed “outrage” over “significant abuses in our election system”—without bothering to mention any evidence of voter fraud. Later in the letter he gave the game away with the weasel word “if”: “If they believe there was fraud. . .” On the central question he passed the buck. Still, Buck refused to “unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process.” That’s more than Colorado’s other two Republican members of Congress did.

As we have been brutally reminded, political cynicism comes at a cost, sometimes an extraordinary cost.

At the national level, the antics of Trump and his Republican sycophants cost the GOP control of the Senate, knocked his party well down the mountain of moral authority, and understandably outraged a large portion of the country. Now, instead of having two years of relative calm with bipartisan government, we’ll have two years of Democrats looking for retribution and having the power to extract it. This is not good for the country.

And who are Colorado Republicans going to run for Senate in two years, and for other high-profile races? Buck? Good luck with that after this year’s shenanigans. Meanwhile, because of his brave actions during the Capitol assault, Representative Jason Crow is rightly a national hero. Just try to imagine how some future race between Buck and Crow would play out. Republicans have deeply tarnished their brand and given Democrats the opportunity to position themselves as the defenders of our Constitutional republic.

I’m not seeing a very deep Republican bench. District Attorney George Brauchler, who has beat up Governor Jared Polis via his Denver Post column, has isolated himself from Trumpism fairly well. Yet the stench of the Trumpist insurrection will be hard for any Republican to escape.

I don’t know if Colorado Republicans have noticed this—their actions suggest they haven’t—but Democrats now control the entire state government. Images of the Capitol Assault are horrific and terrifying, and they will linger in voters’ minds for years, damaging Republican prospects all down the ballot.

My main niche as a columnist is supposed to be advocating economic liberty and pointing out all the ways that Democrats and leftists more broadly ignore the lessons of economics and the benefits of free markets. I’m supposed to usually write about tax policy, regulations, subsidies, protectionism, and so on.

But the only way that such discussions can make any difference (aside from maybe persuading some Republicans) is if Democrats think they will pay a price at the polls for bad economic policy. But the Colorado Republican Party has all but destroyed itself as a serious opposition party, never mind a serious contender for statewide power. Yes, part of the problem is insider self-dealing, but even that is driven by the deeper problems of conspiracy mongering, blind emotionalism, and cynical manipulation of the base.

The ray of hope is that many Republicans and Republican-friendly people firmly reject Trumpism. State Senator Kevin Priola has called for Trump’s removal. Columnist Krista Kafer wonders if “it’s time to start a new party.” Radio host Ross Kaminsky Tweeted, “I’m not gonna belabor the point because I understand why I made the decision (Kamala Harris is why) but one of my few true regrets in life is that I voted for Donald Trump in 2020. I knew better.”

Absent some major party realignment—unlikely especially given government’s support of the two-party system—the best way forward is to try to rebuild a sane Republican Party to keep Democratic excesses in check and eventually to restore power sharing. For that to work, Republicans here simply have to knock off the conspiracy mongering, as it turns Republicans who make themselves victim to it into dangerous fools. Republicans who want responsible power in reality need to start living in reality.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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