The feverish future of the Republican Party

Ryan Cooper
·5 min read

I spent my middle and high school years in a small town on Colorado's Western Slope — the sparsely-populated, rugged section of the state across the Continental Divide from Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. It's a spectacularly beautiful piece of country, full of ski hamlets, deep river canyons, little farm towns, and vast mountain ranges.

It's also likely to be represented in Congress next year by a complete maniac. Lauren Boebert, a far right-wing restaurateur who has never held elected office, successfully primaried the incumbent Republican Scott Tipton, who has represented the 3rd District since 2010, back in July. Now, in the general election, she faces Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to Tipton in 2018 by eight points.

Though Boebert is probably more likely to lose than Tipton would have been, she has rallied the conservative Western Slope base far more than he ever did. It's a window into the present and probable future of the Republican Party — a movement in which grievance politics have completely swallowed any kind of substantive agenda.

Boebert has basically nothing to say about governance as such. Her website has no policy section, nor any discussion of policy outside of vague pronouncements of being "PRO-FREEDOM, PRO-GUNS, PRO-CONSTITUTION, PRO-ENERGY, PRO-LIFE," and so forth. Like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose look she has imitated, she clearly has no knowledge of or interest in the substance of the job. Instead, she became a right-wing celebrity on the back of a viral moment yelling at Beto O'Rourke over gun control during a campaign rally and subsequent media attention to her gimmick restaurant in Rifle, "Shooters Grill," where all the servers are armed.

She's accumulated a massive Twitter following with the usual inflammatory right-wing agitpropaccusing Democrats of favoring unauthorized immigrants over salon owners, suggesting America should destroy the Department of Education, promising "I will veto any legislation that raises taxes. Period," and so on. (How a single member of the House would "veto" anything is unclear.) As is depressingly common these days, she has played footsie with the violent conspiracy movement QAnon, and her former campaign chairman has praised the terrorist Proud Boys gang.

However, Boebert's back story is considerably more interesting than her self-portrayal as a good Christian mother who got into politics to defend conservative values. It turns out she is actually from Florida originally, something she doesn't mention. She has been arrested at least three times, once for disorderly conduct and twice after failing to appear in court. A story she tells about arming her servers because someone was murdered behind the restaurant appears to be a lie — there is no such murder recorded, and the only death nearby was a drug overdose. A different restaurant she once owned, Smokehouse 1776, once gave dozens of patrons food poisoning with tainted pork sliders, and was later cited by the local health department for wildly improper food storage.

Meanwhile, though Boebert may be utterly devoid of policy knowledge, she evinces a canny understanding of the national media environment. As Nancy Lofholm writes for the Colorado Sun, she has gotten wide attention with antics at various city council meetings, participating in a totally doomed attempt to recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis, appearing at anti-gun control rallies with hate groups, and other self-promotion stunts. She similarly took down the hapless Tipton — a beige nonentity who nevertheless blindly follows Trump like a lost lamb — in part through lunatic accusations that he was in league with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In short, Boebert is a classic product of the Age of Trump — someone who is both a cynical grifter out for fame and success at any cost, but also genuinely committed to right-wing extremism. Just like Trump, she is a "law and order" fanatic with a record of running afoul of the law. Just like Trump, she poses as a competent self-made entrepreneur despite a record of dismal failure and huge losses. Just like Trump, she is both selling conservative base voters their own unhinged anger back to them for fame and money, and actually believes all the same crack-brained nonsense they do. It's an ouroboros of political insanity — and local conservatives eat it up.

In real life, you do not start up a restaurant where the servers are armed because you fear for your life in Rifle, Colorado, a small town that has seen precisely one murder from 2014 to 2019. You do it for the cultural signaling — performatively owning the gun control libs for attention, no matter the risk of blowing your own gonads off every time you sit down. By the same token, Boebert is not against pandemic safety on the merits, she is against it because the libs are for it. As one loyal supporter, Colorado state representative Matt Soper, told the Denver Post: "It's not so much about wearing masks. It's about being told that you have to wear a mask." The conservative mindset is an endless search for new ways to work themselves into a frenzy over purported victimization at the hands of liberals.

When I interviewed her back in 2018, Diane Mitsch Bush was the polar opposite of Boebert — a soft-spoken, scrupulously polite woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of policy, and a painfully earnest desire to deliver concrete victories to her constituents. Alas, that does not tend to translate into attention from the press or viral moments on social media platforms (something that Democrats really need to work on, by the way).

At any rate, if Trump is completely blown out of the water next week, it's possible there could be a change of heart among conservative elites and voters. But Boebert is already claiming, without evidence, that Democrats are plotting to steal the election, while Trump says out loud that he hopes the judges he has put in office will stop the vote count before it is finished and reinstall him in power. Even if Trump loses badly, what would be more appealing to conservatives, do you think — a hard reckoning with their gargantuan failures that have laid waste to this country, or driving themselves even more crazy with more paranoid delusions that they're the real victims?

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