Although there’s usually nothing in the political world we can all agree on, I’ll offer up this attempt: It was an unusually strange week for the Colorado GOP’s congressional delegation, even by the very high weirdness standards they often set for themselves.
And not only were they strange or even strangely weird, the week’s events could actually have a major impact on the 2022 election season.
Doug Lamborn is being sued by a former aide, Brandon Pope, for what Pope termed Lamborn’s “reckless and dangerous approach” to the pandemic. Pope, who would eventually be fired, said in a lawsuit that Lamborn had called COVID-19 a “hoax” before contracting it himself. He also said that once Lamborn did come down with the virus and both his Capitol and district offices became virus hotspots, he told a staffer, “Well, I don’t care about you guys getting it.”
In the lawsuit, Pope claims Lamborn would mock staffers who chose to wear masks, paid no attention to rules on social distancing, forced staffers to work in-person, refused to quarantine himself and, in fact, slept in the office while sick with the virus, warning staffers not to tell anyone, including those they had come in contact with, about the Lamborn-
There’s more to the lawsuit, including a charge that Lamborn allowed a son to sleep in a storage room in the Capitol basement for a few weeks while looking for a place to live in Washington, even as taxpayer-paid staffers were assisting him in filling out job applications. It’s a grab bag of allegations. Lamborn’s spokesperson called the charges “unsubstantiated,” which isn’t exactly my idea of a forceful repudiation.
Lamborn did admit, though, to Colorado Public Radio’s Caitlyn Kim, that he gave his son temporary housing as his “guest, because the housing market in Washington, D.C., is very tight.” Asked whether he put up his guest in the Capitol basement, Lamborn declined to answer.
In any case, Lamborn has consistently been primaried over his eight terms in office and, with this headline-making lawsuit, I’d assume there will be a long line of challengers.
Speaking of which:
For Lauren Boebert, every week is strangely weird, which is why Democrats are falling over themselves to take her on in 2022. This week was no different from the rest. In this one, she likened Biden’s suggestion to either get vaxxed or keep wearing a mask to something out of the Book of Revelation. And she joined in on a presser, with the so-called Freedom Caucus, denouncing critical race theory, which is among the latest causes in right-wing circles.
It’s an easy stand to take because — and this is just a guess here — probably fewer than 5 percent of Americans could tell you what critical race theory actually is. In the presser, Boebert gave no indication that she was among the 5 percent. In her definition, it meant that Democrats were trying to destroy America, that proponents were racists, that someone was espousing communism over liberty and that people were marching in the streets in an attempt to take away our freedoms.
If you don’t want to watch the 5-minute video — which I highly recommend, if just for the unintentional laughs — here’s a taste: “Racist Democrats have always been after our children. They pushed for segregation in schools in the ’60s. And now they’re pushing this critical race theory in our schools, which is nothing more than modern day racism. Democrats want to teach our children to hate each other.”
On the other hand:
Ken Buck is presumably against hate. He’s also apparently against lies, or at least the Big Lie, which puts him well in the minority in Colorado’s minority party. And, as if to prove it, he was among those few who voted to keep Liz Cheney in her position in the House GOP hierarchy. (Boebert voted against her, of course. Lamborn, boldly, refused to say.)
This is a bold stand by Buck, though. As we know, Cheney was kicked out of her position as conference chair for her refusal to go along with the Big Lie and for her insistence on reminding everyone that it was, in fact, a big lie. As she said Tuesday night on the House floor: “Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” CNN reported that Buck was the only Republican on the floor when Cheney spoke.
After the vote Wednesday, Buck told reporters, in a direct jab at his party, “Liz Cheney was canceled today for speaking her mind and disagreeing with the narrative that President Trump was putting forward.”
Buck has a long history with the Cheneys. He worked for Dick Cheney back in the ’80s during Cheney’s stint in Congress. Dick Cheney was among those who endorsed Buck in his run for Congress in 2014. And like both Cheneys, Buck is a proven hard-right conservative who has a 98 percent lifetime ranking from the American Conservative Union.
There’s more to this than personal loyalty with the Cheneys, though. The Cheneys may not like Trump, but Buck has been a true Trump loyalist. And yet, Buck knows, as all Republican politicians must privately know, that continued belief in a rigged election will be a disaster for the party. In a recent poll, 67 percent of Colorado Republicans said they thought the 2020 election was rigged. That poll is in line with most national polls. And Buck, not in line, had opposed the Republican attempt to “overturn the election” by refusing to certify certain electors in states that Biden won. You remember that vote. It came on Jan. 6, right after the insurrection.
“We have to deal with this narrative at some point,” Buck said Thursday about the Big Lie. “There are major issues — the border, spending — major issues. But to suggest that the American people in 2022 won’t consider the fact that we were unwilling to stand up to a narrative that the election was stolen — I think [that] will be taken into consideration, with their vote.”
Next year in Colorado, Michael Bennet is running for reelection, Jared Polis is running for reelection, all soon-to-be-eight congressional districts will be contested, and Democrats will pound Republicans on Trump and the Big Lie. I don’t even know who Republicans can get to run against Bennet or Polis. Buck says he won’t and plans to run to keep his House seat in the 4th Congressional District, which, even when it’s redrawn, will likely remain a Republican district.
The question is whether Trump will get involved, as he promises to do with Cheney and others, in a primary fight against Buck. Even if Trump doesn’t get involved, it’s a pretty sure thing that somebody will primary Buck, who hasn’t just challenged the Big Lie, but also has challenged the GOP’s cult-like belief in all matters Trump. I doubt if Buck could be successfully primaried, but that is, if you’ll recall, exactly what everyone said about Scott Tipton.
When an Axios reporter asked Buck whether he was worried about a Trump backlash, he joked, “I’ve been looking for an exit strategy for 6½ years, so if that’s the exit strategy, that’s OK.”
Buck is one of those politicians who likes to pretend not to be one. Of course, no one has forced him to keep running for office. No one is forcing him to stay in Washington. But don’t be surprised if someone in his own party tries to force him out.
Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.