Sen. Ken Salazar is catching a lot of flack from liberal Democrats for saying that he will support Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) if he decides to run for re-election as an Independent after losing a Democratic primary on Tuesday to Ned Lamont. As Salazar told The Pueblo Chieftain: “I want to see Joe Lieberman back in the Senate because he is one of those senators in the center, one of the moderate Democrats and Republicans who get things done. I gave him my word that I would support him and I will.”

Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in large part because of his support of the Iraq war, but also because liberal Democrats felt like he wasn’t “liberal” enough for them. This is the same Lieberman who was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 Presidential election, but since then liberals — egged on by blogosphere giants such as DailyKos — have been upset with Lieberman for acting more like a (gasp!) moderate. Liberals in Colorado are now angry with Salazar because he is showing loyalty to his friend rather than loyalty to his political party, and while I agree with their argument, I don’t agree with their venom.

I think Salazar should probably stay out of this fight, because if Democrats picked Lieberman to lose in a primary, other Democrats probably should respect that outcome. I think it’s sour grapes for Lieberman to try to run as an Independent now; if you run as a Democrat or a Republican and you lose, you shouldn’t then try to run as an Independent. If Lieberman wanted to run as an Independent, he should have done it before the primary.

I don’t agree with Lieberman, but I also don’t know what Salazar’s relationship is with the long-time senator. Salazar says that they are good friends and that he promised to support him, and I respect his loyalty to his friend if that is the case. Politics is about relationships, and Salazar has proved time and time again that he is loyal to his friends. He was loyal to Alberto Gonzalez when he was nominated for the U.S. Attorney General post — support which made liberal Democrats livid — and now he says he’ll stand by Lieberman even after his primary loss. I don’t agree with him, but I absolutely respect his decision and his loyalty.

In fact, I respect Salazar more because of his decision. Most politicians are the type who put their finger in the wind and do what they think will win them the most support and will play best in the court of public opinion. Salazar stands by his decisions and his personal principles, which I think is a very admirable trait. Liberal Democrats call him names like “traitor,” as though his party affiliation should be written in blood, but I wish we had more politicians who did what they thought was right — not what they thought would make the most people happy.

The people who criticize Salazar are often the same people who cry that he is abandoning people who elected him when he doesn’t follow the Democratic party line. I’m always amazed at that sentiment, as though Democrats are solely responsible for getting Salazar elected in Colorado. We live in a state that is very much a Republican state, by voter registration and by past history. Salazar received tens of thousands more votes in 2004 than Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, which means that a lot of voters cast their ballots for both President Bush and Salazar. Voters crossed their party line to vote for Salazar, and they got the person they thought they were getting: A thoughtful moderate senator who absolutely — but not universally — sides with Democrats. It wasn’t Democrats who elected Salazar – it was Coloradans. And now we have a strong-minded senator who is far more effective than the ultra-partisan Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, who poll show is the least popular senator in the entire country.

There’s no surprise here. Salazar didn’t run as a liberal, yet liberals are incensed when he doesn’t act like one. They cry out that they won’t support him in 2010, yet what would they rather do? Would they rather see a hardcore Republican defeat Salazar, out of spite? Would that “moral” victory make them feel better? We’ll show you! You will — you’ll show us how to lose a seat to a Republican.

The liberal cries about Salazar are still in their infancy, yet they are the early stages of a disease that has destroyed Republicans in Colorado. Republicans in the last decade slowly got to the point that they are at today, where ultra-right conservatives battled moderate Republicans for control of their party. And you know who is winning? Democrats. Conservatives attacked their fellow Republicans with zeal prior to Tuesday’s primary, and they had their small victory. But now Democrats can run against hardcore conservatives in areas where the voters are looking for a moderate candidate.

Conservatives who backed the failed gubernatorial candidacy of Marc Holtzman are still mad at Bob Beauprez. Look at this quote from the Rocky Mountain News: “I’m not really happy with Beauprez,” said Connie Harn, a Jeffco Republican activist who worked on Holtzman’s campaign. “Until the Republican party gets back to basic principles, I’ve about had it with the party. The Republican party is out of touch with what the voters want and Bob Beauprez is part of that.” You know what that anger is going to get them? Bill Ritter.

Conservatives are winning their minor battles within the Republican party, but they’ll probably lose the war…and Democrats are heading in that same direction with their venom toward Salazar. They want an ultra-liberal Democratic senator, but that’s not what Salazar is. And Colorado isn’t going to elect someone like that anytime soon. Someone like Ned Lamont can beat someone like Joe Lieberman, but not in a Republican-leaning state like Colorado. This isn’t Connecticut, even if liberals wish it were.

Republicans should be providing a valuable lesson for liberal Democrats with their nasty inter-party feud, but apparently nobody is paying attention.