In a normal election year, an upstart Senate candiate being asked to give a speech at his party’s national convention would be nothing short of a coup. Of course, 2016 has been anything but normal.
Colorado’s GOP Senate nominee Darryl Glenn will appear at next week’s Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, part of a roster of orators that doesn’t much resemble what these lists normally look like. That’s because Donald Trump has so polarized his party that numerous Republican lawmakers, past and present, are protecting their own futures by skipping the week altogether. The party leadership is now scrambling to fill the slots with a gaggle of politicians and public figures who wouldn’t typically make the cut. Among the missing will be such GOP stalwarts as former presidents Bush (both of them) and senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner will be there, an appearance that owes as much to his party loyalty as it does to the fact that he’s not up for reelection until 2020.
It’s possible that Glenn, who’s been endorsed by Senator Ted Cruz and Trump BFF Sarah Palin (another no-show for the convention), would have received a speaking invitation anyway. He’s an African-American conservative in a year when the GOP desperately needs to attract more minority voters who’ve been turned off by Trump’s extreme xenophobic rhetoric. By steadfastly refusing to tack toward the political center since he won his state party’s nomination, Glenn is a relentless voice for the conservatism that some in his party fear is lacking from Trump’s message, although Glenn’s philosophies do align pretty squarely with the party’s official platform, a retrograde mishmash of wishful thinking, outdated social policies, and skewed priorities.
The bigger question is whether such staunch conservatism is what Colorado (or national) voters are looking for. Yes, the rifts between right and left are as deep as ever. But Trump’s improbable rise—along with the enmity, irrational or otherwise, that Hillary Clinton seems to perpetually generate—means that the portion of our state’s independent and undecided voters has probably never been larger. Incumbent Senator Michael Bennet has his critics, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the volume of supposed negatives that Clinton must overcome to win. (He’s also got way more campaign money and support from his national party than Glenn has received yet.) As Colorado’s demographics evolve in step with the rest of the nation, the idea that the GOP will have electoral success, even at the more parochial state level, by moving harder to the right seems doubtful to the point of being simply illogical.
So while Glenn’s name recognition will definitely benefit from his RNC appearance, he’s likely to use the slot to continue to beat the drum for Trump, for the idea that the widely despised Cruz would make a good Supreme Court appointment, and for his “unapologetic Christian constitutionalist conservatism” that leaves little or no room for legislative compromises. This might make him a man of principle, but it’s less clear that such views will impress very many Coloradans.
Follow 5280 editor-at-lage Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.