Three Republicans illustrate the party’s identity crisis
ERIC SONDERMANN Ews@ericsondermann.com Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and The Gazette newspapers;t Ews@ericsondermann.com; follow him at @Ericsondermann.
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
Political parties evolve and change. The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was hardly that of Dwight Eisenhower, much less Abraham Lincoln. The modern Democratic Party bears only a faint resemblance to the assemblage led by John F. Kennedy, to say little of Woodrow Wilson. While Democrats today certainly have their wings, factions and internal debates, they operate within some boundaries of normalcy. The differences between Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin, even here at home between, say, John Hickenlooper and Lisa Calderon, are part and parcel of party coalitions. On the flip side, the GOP remains in the grips of a full-blown identity crisis that has been the case since Donald Trump stole the keys from the likes of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. For an illustration of that core confusion, let’s look to three prominent, elected Republicans, two from Colorado and one from neighboring Utah. All have made headline news lately. Those above-the-fold stories tell us much about the battle for the GOP’S heart and soul. Our tale begins with none other than Colorado’s proudest contribution to national political discourse, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. Even the likes of Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene must have privately thought, “She takes it a bit far,” and, “Where’s the decorum?” For those awakening from some self-imposed hibernation, Boebert, along with a very handsy date, was escorted out of Denver’s Buell Theater for being way too juiced during a performance of the Broadway hit, “Beetlejuice.” I am all for public officials having a chance to unwind and enjoy life. But that is a far cry from Boebert’s antics. She chose to spend her night out vaping (against the rules); ignoring a request to stop from a pregnant woman sitting immediately behind her (against all decency); obnoxiously snapping photos (against the rules and any sense of judgment); and, engaging in a spectacle of breathless groping (best left back in high school and the backseat of a borrowed car). This was all too much, even for someone whose patented political move is to constantly double down and never express regret. An apology of sorts came a few days later. All of us make mistakes. Though in Boebert’s case, instead of being out of character, her display at the theater seemed very much in character. Her entire, well-cultivated persona is based on outrage, and, yes, performance. As is the case with far too many others who came of political age in the era of Trump, Boebert’s core conviction is that society’s rules don’t apply to her. Since Boebert blasted onto the scene in 2020, more than a handful of Republicans have told me that I really needed to get to know her and that deep down she is a far better person than her public image suggests. I have deferred and her latest escapades indicate otherwise. This leads us to Boebert’s colleague in Colorado’s Republican congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck yields nothing to Boebert in terms of conservative ideology. Yet, he has become her polar opposite when it comes to discernment, principle and adherence to the U.S. Constitution. Buck’s conservatism goes hand in hand with his prosecutorial roots and his respect for that code. Taken together, that has resulted in a distinctly conservative voting record befitting his district, a loyalty to the established institutions of government and a requirement that serious charges of wrongdoing be accompanied by that pesky little thing called evidence. Buck and Boebert are both members of the House Freedom Caucus, representing the GOP’S right flank. But absent evidence (that word again) to invalidate the 2020 presidential election, Buck departed from most of his fellow caucus members in voting to certify Joe Biden’s election. For those with short memories, that vote took place on the evening of January 6, 2021, just hours after that day’s unprecedented violence. Now, Buck is making national headlines for resisting the Biden impeachment push led by many in the Freedom Caucus. While there is no doubt as to Hunter Biden’s sleazy grift, Buck insists on demonstrable proof of the president’s involvement and culpability. In his spare time, when not dealing with his party’s internal lunacy, Buck has become the foremost Republican taking on big tech and endeavoring to hold the likes of Apple and Google to account. For all of this, mainly for refusing to lend his name to every evidence-free, partisan pile-on, Buck has come to be regarded as a “rebel” in his caucus. Which says more about the Republican ranks at the moment than it does about Buck. On a related note, let’s close today by turning to the retirement announcement from the Republican senior statesman from our western neighbor. Via Michigan and then Massachusetts, Utah’s Mitt Romney was the last GOP presidential standard-bearer not named Trump. Contrary to the image of him in Maga-world, Romney is hardly some closet leftie. He was sufficiently conservative to be his party’s nominee for president just 11 years ago. And to then be nominated to run for a Senate seat by Republicans in one of America’s most conservative states. But what distinguishes Romney, especially in today’s GOP, is his commitment to virtues, once conservative in nature, that have grown decidedly old-fashioned. Included on this list are conscience and conciliation. Romney is self-aware enough to realize that he no longer fits in a party that, in the span of less than two decades, went from “compassionate conservatism” to “American carnage.” In an Atlantic magazine excerpt from a forthcoming biography of Romney, he is quoted, “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” Have more damning words about a political party ever been spoken by someone recently such a central figure? Not pulling his punches, and recognizing life is short, Romney conveys particular scorn for those newly ascendant Republicans who clearly know better but debase themselves in opportunistically mouthing Trump’s tunes. The shameful trio of Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and J.D. Vance come in for special derision. What those three and plenty more have in common is abundant brainpower. What they lack together is any moral compass or commitment to principle. Now imagine some coming gathering of leading Republican activists. Romney, Buck and Boebert are all there and each gets their five minutes of stage time. Care to hazard a guess which one receives a hero’s welcome and which two are greeted with boos and catcalls?