(Editor’s note: You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)
As Republicans digest how the last election could be an extinction-level event for their party in Colorado, some of their political grief might well turn to blaming spoilers.
When a candidate wins, but doesn’t win by more than 50% of the vote, it means some third-party yahoo entered the race and “spoiled” it for the guy who came in second.
Mostly this gripe is reserved for Libertarians (note the large “L” to denote the actual Libertarian Party) who ruined it for the Republican.
Once upon a time Democrats had a similar problem. Some crazed nutjob in the Green Party would run in a state House or Senate district and pull enough votes away from the Democrat candidate to swing the victory to the Republican.
And, for a short period, there seemed to be some degree of parity in this Game of Spoilers — not quite a détente, but at least both sides got wounded.
Then Colorado Democrats did what they seem to do. They turned it into their political advantage. They took the entire Green Party Manifesto and absorbed it into Democratic Party gospel. After which the Green Party didn’t really need to exist here to shut down fossil fuels and mandate unaffordable, unreliable energy. Democrats would do it better and faster.
The Democratic Party merely out greened the Greens.
The Republican Party did the opposite to Libertarians. On the relatively few issues that separate them — but do so violently, like the drug war, gay rights, assistance in dying — the Republican Party shunned Libertarians. But Colorado, at least on social issues, did not.
Coloradans went on to legalize marijuana and mushrooms, as well as aid in dying at the ballot box.
When Colorado Republicans were in control of the state House a civil unions bill with protections for religious objections (like cake bakers) was moving toward passage until Republican leadership shot it down instead. This opened the wallets of the ultra-wealthy, gay-rights super team of Tim Gill, Pat Stryker, Rutte Bridges and Jared Polis, leading to the Democratic takeover of the state.
Had the Republicans just passed civil unions back then, who knows what might be different today. And the sad part for them? Although they couldn’t have seen it coming, it wasn’t long after shutting the door on civil unions that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage altogether.
If Republicans were more libertarian then, Colorado might not be so socialist now.
Libertarians say they pull votes away from both the Democrat and the Republican, roughly equally. I have a hard time buying that, and certainly the losing Republican doesn’t buy it.
In Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District, the Libertarian candidate, Richard Ward, pulled in nearly 4% of the votes. Democrat Yadira Caraveo defeated Republican Barb Kirkmeyer by a victory of a mere 0.73%. The Libertarian brought in five times that difference.
The Libertarian cost Kirkmeyer her seat. Absolutely. Chalk one up for the spoilers.
Need a clearer example? Colorado’s State Board of Education, like the rest of the state’s governments, are firmly in the hands of the Democrats.
Also in the 8th District, Democrat Rhonda Solis beat Republican Peggy Propst by 0.88%. But the Constitution Party candidate brought in 2.24%.
Though Libertarians make a weak but plausible argument that they pull votes equally from Rs and Ds, the Constitution Party only pulls from Republicans. They are only voters who feel the Republican Party has gone too squishy on them.
In State House District 25, Republican incumbent Colin Larsen lost to the Democrat, also with a Libertarian making the margin of difference. But the numbers are much tighter in this race.
And that’s it. Two cases where spoilers absolutely caused the Republican defeat and one maybe. Outside of that, spoilers were a non-factor in some 35 other races.
Republicans would be wise to accept Colorado is not a socially conservative state anymore. But as seen by the 21-point victory of the Independence Institute-backed income tax cut, we might still be a fiscally conservative state.
There may be a libertarian (note the small “l”) path forward for Republicans here. Another lesson from the Democrats, if Republicans care to listen.
And it would be better still if voters didn’t throw their votes away on protest candidates that can’t win no matter how much they dislike the candidates that can.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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