The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion For evidence that GOP ‘angertainment’ isn’t working, take a look at Colorado

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) attends a roundtable about the pandemic at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Nov. 10. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent of National Review.

DENVER — Colorado is an odd state. This month the state’s voters approved a ballot measure to legalize the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms, 54 percent to 46 percent, but the same voters just barely passed a ballot measure allowing supermarkets to sell both beer and wine.

But come the 2024 election, you’ll probably need magic 'shrooms or a Coors ’n’ cabernet cocktail to imagine that the state is going to be similarly unpredictable if Republicans stay on their current track.

Heading into Election Day, Colorado’s problems looked like those of a lot of other states: Inflation is high, crime is increasing and President Biden’s approval rating in Colorado was just 40 percent, according to Civiqs polling. Yet voters reelected the state’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, by 19 percentage points, reelected its U.S. Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, by 14 percentage points with easy victories for many down-ballot Democrats and Democratic majorities in the legislature now made lopsided.

Redistricting tweaked the district lines, but all the state’s incumbent members of the U.S. House were reelected. The surprise of the year was Republican controversy connoisseur Lauren Boebert just barely winning reelection in a heavily Republican district by 554 votes, as of this writing. Her Democratic rival, Adam Frisch, wildly overperformed expectations by asking voters whether they were tired of Boebert’s brand of “angertainment.”

It wasn’t that long ago in Colorado — 2014 — that Republican Cory Gardner won a hard-fought Senate race and Republicans won the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer’s race. Colorado was purplish then, a place where Republicans could win if the political winds were right.

Yes, the GOP underperformed in a lot of places this year, but the limits of “angertainment” were perhaps most vividly illustrated here, a rough lesson in the diminishing returns from an approach to governing that mistakes “owning the libs” for getting things done for constituents.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said the GOP would have a double-digit House majority after the 2022 midterm elections. That has yet to happen. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The razor-thin near-rejection of Boebert — from a district that Donald Trump won by eight percentage points in 2020, covering much of the western half of the state — demonstrates that Trump-esque style of turning the performative outrage up to 11 hit a hard ceiling among the electorate, repelling not just Democrats and independents but apparently a thin but decisive slice of Republicans. It likely isn’t a coincidence that the last good year for Colorado Republicans was the one before Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign.

If you’re a Republican who wants to run for office — in Colorado or anywhere else — there are two ways to build support. You can get to know local party leaders, appear at every public event possible, be active in your community, accumulate a record of accomplishments. But that’s difficult and takes time.

A much quicker and easier way to stand out is to be the most outspoken, controversial and arguably craziest candidate — and almost all the intersecting media environments of the mainstream media, conservative media and social media gravitate to stories with the theme of, “You won’t believe what this GOP candidate is saying or doing!”

In Republican circles, there’s probably no media entity more widely consumed than Fox News. In a crowded or even not-so-crowded GOP field, an appearance on Fox News, at almost any hour, is a tremendous way to build name ID and attract potential donors and supporters. And in the Trump era, appearing on Fox News was the best way to get on the president’s radar screen and garner one of those all-important Trump endorsements. “Angertainment”? Trump loved it.

The problem is, on a typical night, Tucker Carlson’s prime-time program attracts 3 million viewers, an impressive total for prime-time cable news. But that’s a small, small slice of the overall electorate, and it’s a niche audience.

More than 118 million Americans voted in the 2018 midterm elections, and when all the votes are counted for this year, the final tally is likely to be about the same. The electorate is made up of tens of millions of people who are never going to watch Fox News — not necessarily out of any ideological animus, but because they don’t find it fun to watch people talk about politics with a lot of red graphics and chyrons whooshing around the screen before they go to bed. This doesn’t mean they’ll never vote for Republicans; it means that Fox News isn’t an effective way to reach them or sufficient to make a case for voting for a candidate.

During the Trump presidency and into 2022, a lot of Republican candidates believed that what appeals to the Fox News audience would appeal to enough people in the entire electorate, districtwide or statewide, to win a race. The midterms showed how mistaken that is; Boebert hanging on to her seat by her fingernails suggests that the outlandish, in-your-face, larger-than-life social-media viral personas that attract Trump and perhaps the network’s bookers is just barely enough to get you to 50 percent in a Republican-leaning district.

Colorado Republicans need some new ideas and new approaches for 2024. They’re in a mountain of trouble.

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