Election 2020 Colorado Senate

Presidential advisor Ivanka Trump, back looks on as U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner speaks during a news conference at the Bright Beginnings Learning Center early Friday, July 24, 2020, in Greenwood Village. 

I had a candid chat with a notable Republican pollster recently. He was worried, he confided.

President Donald Trump is bleeding out where a Republican should be thriving. "If we're having to compete in Texas ..." he said, before trailing off.

The slide of women voters and suburban voters isn't a surprise, but Republicans are in an abyss without older folks, as Trump talks of cutting payroll taxes that fund Social Security. Trump also is bleeding rural voters.

The president's threats on the U.S. Postal Service after years of trade tariffs and his perceived blame for the pandemic response put him in a slide there as well, in a bloc Trump dominated by 33% four years ago. 

A progressive operation aimed at luring away non-metro voters, RuralOrganizing.org, released a national poll in April that indicated 52% of rural respondents thought Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak was inadequate, and 45% distrusted the information he was providing.

Attach any margin of error you want on that, and it's still big trouble for the GOP.

The warning signs are in Colorado. This month, a poll of the normally conservative Western Slope has Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in a dead heat with Republican Lauren Boebert. The poll was internal and paid for with partisan money, but if Congressional District 3 is in play, other Republicans should feel the ground rumbling. 

When Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, it cost Democrats 35 seats in the House and control of the Senate for the first time in 28 years. 

Colorado Republicans, however, have doubled down on their embrace of the president. U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the most endangered of all, endorsed Trump early, and Trump returned the favor at a Colorado Springs rally in February.

The president also counts among his allies Reps. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton. Of course, Tipton rode Trump's endorsement into the sunset in his primary against Boebert.

Between now and November, Republicans must start thinking about life after Trump and who the party is without him. Can working class authoritarianism go back to being Reagan Republicans? 

Sunday the Republican National Committee decided it would not pass a party platform at this year's nominating convention, and instead “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Colorado delegation walked out of the RNC rather than nominate Trump. Switching back now will be difficult, unless those principles were paper-thin to begin with to provide a gauze for something else. This time they're not even offering up any principles, just Trump. That's the early warning sign of the impending switch. They won't have to disavow a platform they never offered.

Not one living former GOP presidential nominee or president will take part in this year's Republican National Convention, as three former presidents, John Kerry and John McCain's wife vouched for Joe Biden during the Democratic National Committee. Cindy McCain spoke longer that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in fact. Last month the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute put distance between the two presidents' legacies.

The family's official foundation last month asked the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee to stop raising money using Reagan's likeness on a gold-colored coin alongside Trump for a $45 donation.

Similarly, Trump miffed the foundation last year when he retweeted a quote from the late president he was alleged to have said after shaking hands with Trump at a reception: “For the life of me, and I’ll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with the president.” The foundation administrator said Reagan “did not ever say that about Donald Trump.”

A younger Reagan, however, had his own issues. We learned last year from a phone call he made in October 1971, when Reagan was governor of California. He rang President Richard Nixon to grouse about Tanzanian delegates who swung a United Nations vote to expel Taiwan and accept the People's Republic of China. The shockingly racist language was caught on Nixon's famous tapes and became public last year. You can hear it here.

In his lifetime, we never had to separate Reagan from his deep flaws. Trump makes his part of the news cycle. Republicans are used to compartmentalizing the man from his policies.

That might prove the path forward to Trumpism without Trump.

I was talking about this with John Pudner, who leads Take Back Our Republic, known as TakeBack.org. John was a Romney 2008 adviser and a Bush 2000 aide, who’s worked a bit in the West over his 30-year career.

Pudner's testimony helped convince the Federal Elections Commission, unanimously, that voters need to know who is paying for Facebook political ads. Republicans have to reclaim their identity, he tells me, and undisclosed money in politics is one of them. Honest government is another.

He's concerned Democrats are better at raising dirty money, frankly. Gardner's opponent, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, eschews corporate PAC money, like other Democrats. Yet, as Hickenlooper's primary opponent pointed out, the former governor takes cash from the same corporate leaders who normally fund PACs — the same dark money in a different brown bag.

“I think Republicans have to look at this and ask, ‘Are we advocating for rules that are helping us be outspent?’ ” Pudner told me.

Trump had the right message, even if he's the wrong messenger. Draining the swamp is an idea that’s here to stay.

Four years ago, Trump said he was so wealthy he didn't need special interest money. He didn't keep that promise, however.

“I think that gave people hope that you can run against both sides of the establishment," Pudner said. "That’s a message you can run on and win, but, yeah, some of the things he’s done look like the opposite.”

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