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April 14, 2023 10:40 AM UTC

Rot to the Top: Conservative Institutions in CO Promote the Same Extremism as GOP Base Voters

  • by: Jason Salzman

(There are no “voices of reason” anymore — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

When it comes to explaining why conservatives lose so many elections in Colorado, what we see is establishment Republicans — exemplified by hopping-mad GOP strategist Dick Wadhams — blaming their own powerlessness on the election deniers and Trump supporters, including those who control the Colorado Republican Party.

But you don’t see the alleged moderate Republicans like Wadhams blaming the powerful conservative institutions, many of which are considered to be the respectable mouthpieces of conservatism, for housing and promoting the same extremism — and legitimizing it.

The rot runs to the top in Republican-leaning circles but the blame is focused at the bottom, the base of the party.

So a step in the right direction would be for the conservative institutions that surround the Republican Party — and rely on it to advance their agendas — to stop promoting the same election deniers, Trumpists, and extremists that Colorado Republican activists love but Colorado voters hate.

I’m talking about the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, the Gazette, Colorado Christian University, the Independence Institute, Leadership Program of the Rockies, the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, the oil-and-gas and pharma industries, the Steamboat Institute, and more.

Here’s a rundown of some of the conservative institutions that need to clean house and set Republicans in a different and winnable direction.

Chamber of Commerce

Encouraging the Republican Party to run down the drain of irrelevancy is the Chamber of Commerce, which may not be surprising since big businesses measure life a quarter at a time and so the business-friendly priorities of the moment supersede long-term sustainability and intelligence.

This can be seen most starkly in the chamber’s list of candidate endorsements in the last election. At least ten of the chamber’s 43 chosen candidates — about a quarter of the selections — were on record as promoting baseless conspiracies that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. The chamber endorsed 35 Republicans and 8 Democrats.

Colorado Christian University

The far-right college southwest of Denver bills itself at the most anti-abortion campus in the entire United States, which is bad enough in Colorado. But the university has an activist arm, the Centennial Institute, that runs the Western Conservative Summit, an ultra-conservative conference that attracts some of the most conservative Republicans in the country — including Trump himself in 2016 — as well as local Republicans who often appear on stage with them. If CCU’s goal is to drag Colorado Republicans into Trump and conspiracy craziness — and shine a local media spotlight on them as they’re doing it — then its mission has been accomplished.

Benson Center for Western Conservative Thought


This organization will be forever linked to John Eastman, one of Trump’s top conspiracist lawyers, who served as a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado’s Benson Center while advising Trump on strategies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. But the problems at the Benson Center run deeper than Eastman. At least a third of the center’s other visiting scholars, including Steven Hayward and Stephen Presser, have pushed lies about the 2020 election.

The Gazette

The Denver and Colorado Springs Gazette — and their sister news platforms — often look like professional journalism in action, but screaming in the background is Wayne Laugesen, the Gazette’s editorial page editor, who said the Jan. 6 mob attacking the U.S. Capitol was “probably Antifa.” The Gazette is Colorado’s leading right-wing publication, and its wild editorials (e.g., endorsing Trump and Boebert, promoting misinformation about abortion) inject fatal doses of Trump and craziness into Colorado’s conservative circles, poisoning the Republican Party. The newspaper and its sister organizations are underwritten by billionaire Republican donor Phil Anschutz. The editor is Vince Bzdek, who’s staked out his publications’ conservative territory by baselessly accusing Colorado’s leading journalists of having a liberal bias.

Independence Institute

Watch out for election deniers lurking at the anti-government Independence Institute. The in-house constitutional “scholar” at has “no idea” who won the 2020 presidential election. “I do know there were serious irregularities,” Rob Natelson, who runs the institute’s constitutional studies program. has said. “But I don’t know about the five states that remain unsettled.” Paul Prentice, a fellow at the institute, is also a conspiracist. And the Insitute’s top dog, Jon Caldara, would likely vote for Trump if he’s the nominee, even though he doesn’t like him.

Leadership Program of the Rockies

Colorado’s preeminent conservative leadership program, Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR), is training many unwitting conservatives to be Trump extremists. The speakers at LPR’s training program are further right than ever, while its graduates — populating underground fever swamp media and elsewhere — and leadership program both include a disturbing number of far-right conspiracists.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver


It is of course Trump who’s responsible for overturning Roe, having loaded the U.S. Supreme Court with judges who were vetted specifically for their stance on abortion. Colorado is home to Denver Catholic Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who is one of the country’s leading anti-abortion religious figures. He’s put the issue at the top of his agenda and he’s on a mission to push Catholics into politics and attack pro-choice Democrats, driving extreme abortion opponents into the Republican Party and further undermining its viability in pro-choice Colorado.

The Steamboat Institute

At its annual conference, campus events, and elsewhere, the Steamboat Institute regularly gives an uncritical platform to election deniers and Trump extremists whose views Coloradans reject. The institute gives Boebert, Eastman, Ginnie Thomas, Charlie Kirk, and many other fringe Republicans red-carpet treatment.

The Common Sense Institute

Perhaps the most pearl-clutchingly “nonpartisan” entity on this list, CSI was until recently led by Kristin Strohm, the Colorado GOP’s top fundraiser, and staffed largely by former Republican operatives. CSI calls itself a “free enterprise” think tank and was started by “a concerned group of business leaders.” Foremost among that group is founder Earl Wright, a conservative banking magnate who shared an election fraud conspiracy video with the aforementioned coup author Eastman just three days after the Jan. 6 insurrection. More recently, CSI Fellow George Brauchler used his platform as a Colorado Politics columnist, to attack the Manhattan District Attorney prosecuting Trump.

Pharma and Oil & Gas Industries

Here, you see calcified conservative industries donating over 98% (oil & gas) and 87% (pharma) to Republican candidates. Some of this support went to Republicans who tried to chart a more moderate course, but in the mix were election conspiracists like Boebert and Lamborn. As well as extremist state legislative candidates, like Tim Walsh, who not only praised Trump to supporters but funded videos made by far-right conspiracist Dinesh D’Souza.

And More

That’s just a partial list of moneyed conservative groups actively working to destroy the Republican Party by pushing it so far right that it becomes nothing more than a laugh line. You could also include, in varying degrees, the Independent Women’s Foundation, Ready Colorado, the Farm Bureau, Club 20, the National Federation of Independent Business, and more.

Easy to Blame “Base Republicans”

It’s easy to blame Colorado’s “Republican base voters” and the leaders of Colorado’s Republican Party, like election conspiracist extraordinaire Dave Williams, for the mind-altering crash of Republicanism in our state.

But, clearly, the institutions surrounding the Republican Party, which rely on the GOP to advance their conservative agendas, need to cleanse themselves of the democracy-killers and other extremists in their own midst.

As it is, they’re spawning and legitimizing the same extremism that infests Republican base voters and undermines their power in Colorado.

If you look at the conservative policies these institutions promote, it’s clear that to win or make any progress, they have nowhere to go besides the Republican Party. So it seems obvious that promoting extremism that makes Republicans unelectable in Colorado is self-defeating — not to mention bad for you, them, democracy, and the planet. Yet, that’s what’s happening.


4 thoughts on “Rot to the Top: Conservative Institutions in CO Promote the Same Extremism as GOP Base Voters

  1. While not a totally "Colorado" institution, you may want to add an asterisked entry for "the Network" at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

    the semi-annual gathering of major donors to the conservative Koch network of political and philanthropic organizations….

    The Broadmoor sits 6,000 feet above sea level, its rooms and pools and golf courses splayed around a small lake. The Koch conference filled a tower on the lake’s west side. It drew more than 400 attendees, a majority of them having given $100,000 or more each to the Network’s various affiliates. A dozen of them were prominent Republican governors or members of Congress.


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