The Denver Post’s John Frank documents an interesting if not-unexpected phenomenon in Colorado politics this year: the reluctance of Republican gubernatorial candidates to publicly embrace President Donald Trump during the period of the campaign it would be most valuable to do so, the Republican primary, where they are courting the segment of voters most loyal to Trump:
Trump is a defining figure in the 2018 election in Colorado, particularly in Republican primary contests, where a poll shows support for the president among the party’s likely voters holds at 80 percent.
But many of the state’s Republican candidates remain reluctant to embrace Trump. The two most prominent contenders for governor — state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — won’t say whether they will accept the president’s endorsement or campaign with him. And most others offer conditional support…
Stapleton, a two-term treasurer and relative of George W. Bush, touts his early endorsement of Trump’s tax law on the campaign trail, saying in an interview that he hoped the alignment would help him win support ahead of the June primary.
But when asked about his opinion of Trump’s record in office, he didn’t answer directly. [Pols emphasis]
In the 2012 presidential election, a top adviser to Republican nominee Mitt Romney told the press that transitioning from the primary to the general election was like ‘shaking the Etch-a-Sketch’–meaning that a candidate could essentially disregard the positions they took to win the primary election in order to appeal to general election voters. But as Romney learned in November, voter memories are not simply erased when the primary ends–and what candidate tells base voters in order to gain their support in the primary most certainly does matter once the primary election is over.
Having learned that lesson, Republicans who would in most other circumstances be competing to align themselves with a President favored by 80% of Republican voters are instead finding ways to change the subject when it comes up. Understanding that the electorate in 2018 is likely to punish anyone they connect to the Trump administration, with the exception of Steve Barlock (who won the Adams County caucus straw poll) our local Republicans are making a gamble that their long-term viability is more important.
And it might work–as long as voters somehow don’t put together that what Trump and Republicans have in common is that they are all Republicans! Which seems unlikely. And once voters on both sides figure out what’s going on here, these attempts to put daylight between Republican candidates and the leader of the Republican party look awfully craven.
It’s one of those situations where, even though we don’t have a better idea on how they should proceed, the risk of a disaster worse than the consequences of saying nothing at all is very high. Any way you look at it, Trump is an albatross around the neck of Republican candidates in 2018. The question will only be one of degree.