Republican rank and file have little appetite for change

A view in Colorado (February 2013) by Mark Mardell Colorado is a place of wide-open spaces, gorgeous vistas - and increasingly Democratic politics

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The meeting of the Collegiate Peaks Republican Women's group in the state of Colorado comes to an end with cupcakes and a clarion call.

"There's no elections in 2013, but it's an important year. Let's go, girls!"

The middle-aged ladies around the table are indeed "girls" to Charlotte Smith. She is 91, sharp as a pin, and an embodiment of both the spirit of her party and the trouble it is in - uncompromising, formidable, but of a generation whose time is passing.

She does not have to wait to hear President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday to know what she thinks of the State of the Union. To her, it is dire.

'Frightened and mad'

"I'm very worried, very concerned," Ms Smith says. "He's hurting Christianity.

"He doesn't seem to realise we are one nation under God. I am concerned about what he is doing to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, healthcare, finances, the Constitution. Is there anything I am not concerned about?"

Start Quote

We need to change, but our values aren't going to change”

End Quote Margaret Slavish Buena Vista Republican Women's Club

In Washington, DC you cannot move without tripping over senior Republicans with a new plan to polish up their party's appeal.

I have come here, to Colorado, and the aptly named town of Buena Vista, to see whether local Republicans, the backbone of the party, have much appetite for change. And above all, I have come to see whether they think that should include compromising with the president, who sets out his plans for the year on Tuesday.

Colorado Federation of Republican Women Vice-President Dulany Woodward does not seem in the mood for give and take. She sees President Obama as an existential threat.

"I worry about my grandchildren - this central education that is being pushed is devastating," Ms Woodward says.

"I have a friend whose daughter teaches, and she had to say in a history class that our patriots, our founders, were terrorists. They have books that parents are not allowed to read. I think we are becoming a totally socialistic country.

"We barely recognise our country any more. We have no privacy. They come into our homes, into our businesses. They are taking away our religious freedoms. We don't know our country any more and we are frightened and we are mad."

Red-necks and hippies

But fury and fear are not a strategy. Buena Vista Republican Women's Club President Margaret Slavish thinks President Obama's re-election victory in November simply shows they have to work harder.

"We took a hit. But we have to realise many people have the basic conservative precepts, and we need to encourage them to come out," Ms Slavish said.

Start Quote

Republicans after an election tend to form a circular firing squad”

End Quote Lee Phillips County Attorney

"We need to talk to the younger people, they need to get involved, because we are perceived as an older party. We need to change, but our values aren't going to change."

Colorado is an intriguing and beautiful state. Staring down from the snowy peaks to the plains below, I can imagine the buffalo in their thousands thundering across the plains.

Later, I see some of their domesticated descendants placidly nosing for grass amid the snow.

This used to be the Wild West, where tough frontier men and women forged a new home by fighting the original inhabitants for this land, their homesteads under constant attack.

More recently, Colorado used to be pretty solidly Republican. But it now has a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators, and it voted for President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.

It is a state where redneck ranchers rub shoulders with mountain hippies delighted that the state has legalised marijuana.

The Republican pool of voters has dwindled as the cities grow and the Latino population increases.

Obama and his family (2008) in Puebla, Colorado Obama (shown with his family in Pueblo, Colorado in 2008) won the state twice

I do not think it is too fanciful to feel the Republicans see themselves like those early pioneers, their way of life under attack, precarious and at the mercy of alien Americans.

But Richard Ellsner is not a man for such flights of fancy. Solid and thoughtful, he shows me around his few acres and introduces me to his horses.

Tatter Top is covered in a blanket against the snowy hillside chill. He takes time out from grazing on winter hay to chew on my jacket.

Mr Ellsner, now chairman of the Park County Republicans, has campaigned for the party since Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964. But he thinks his party has to become more tolerant.

'Counsel of despair'

"We have to change how we approach things and how we talk to people," he says. "We have to be not quite as dogmatic as, 'This is it - period'."

Mr Ellsner says he and local Republicans believe in compromise - but President Obama does not.

"When he gave his [inaugural] speech it was like, why should we talk to him? Because he is so opposite to what we believe in, and he doesn't seem at all willing to come across and say, 'You know? I have answers, you have answers, let's try to make things work'."

"It's more like: 'I have answers. Here they are. Tough.' I do not think he understands rural America. I don't think he wants to understand."

Another beautiful drive across the mountains takes me to Fairplay, a gold rush town which looks like a set from a Western.

In a 19th Century log cabin-cum-law office works County Attorney Lee Phillips. He tells me his party, the Republican party, may seem out of time, but it should not change.

"Republicans after an election tend to form a circular firing squad. Probably people who live in states bordered by oceans view us as backward and probably a little creepy because we own guns and go to church."

Can Republicans win?

But he feels his party has nothing to apologise for and says they had a good candidate and a good message in the election. They lost because of demographic changes, he says, in an analysis echoing former presidential nominee Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" speech. There are now more who get what he calls "federal largesse" than those who pay in, he says.

I point out that is rather a counsel of despair. Does it mean the Republicans can never win again?

Coloradoans smoke marijuana (20 April 2012) Colorado's left-ward trend was illustrated in November by a vote to legalise marijuana

He laughs.

"I tell you what, we are all pretty depressed," he says. "Ultimately I have a faith in the American people.

"The idea we can balance our budget by simply taxing the rich simply won't work. The only way for that to be demonstrated is through unhappy experience."

So he thinks Republicans just have to ride out the next four years and hope it goes wrong?

"That is precisely correct. I don't see a happy ending here."

The Republicans who will tonight sit in Congress listening to President Obama draw their strength and their votes from places like the Colorado mountains. The overwhelming message from loyalists is that while the party may need some cosmetic changes they should stand firm and try to block the president's plans.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    303. AndreaNY

    It will be interesting to see how many Repub Governors there are after the next Midterms. You going to be ranting for Cuccinelli for VA governor in 2013? He looks good to win the Repug primary for the 2016 election don't you think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    303. AndreaNY

    Funny how some one who always complains about hose who bring up the past when it is inconvenient bring it up when it is. The problem with the midterms was that many democrats stayed home -- fortunately they came out in 2012, in spite of Repub efforts at vote suppression. The only reason the Republicans still control the House after getting lower cumulative % was due to extreme ger

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    There is a line from Antigone which, I believe, sums up the issue that the Republicans need to face.

    "In flood time you can see how some trees bend, even their twigs are safe. While stubborn trees are torn up, roots and all"

    Who would have thought the Greeks had it right all those years ago? Shame education is on the back burner of the GOP manifesto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    298. Hungery

    222. David

    "That's why the people elected a Rep Don't you think you are being a bit disingenuous by ignoring the extreme gerrymandering

    The "shellacking" Obama's democrats took in that last mid-term election was not due to gerrymandering but rather their expansion of govt.

    And then there are all those republican state governors.

    It's hard to grasp.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    279 DavidUS

    "France? Repulsive"

    When people talk about repulsive countries, it's not France they usually have in mind.



    "The US and UK do not need the "respect" of sleazy 3rd world dictators in the UN - they follow the moral path of supporting Israel"

    HAHAHAHAHA - You have been away from Europe and civilisation for a long time

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    265. HungeryWalleye

    I was surprised the Tea Party and NRA didn't ride to his rescue. The bunker guy's that is, as he was spouting their line.

    Actually, he is a leftie. Which explains why there's no witch hunt for someone on the right to blame. Except by those who don't know his views.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    268. MagicKirin

    So what do you think of W. Buffet, one of the richest men in the world saying he could afford a higher tax rate and talking about the class warfare being waged by the rich against the rest? Did you notice the CEO of Apple applauding the President? Lets get some of our priceless invective against these people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    278. USSilentMajority
    In case you hadn't noticed, Republicans use the terms communist and socialist the same way others use cuss words. Calling some one the name of your group's hate objects is demonization when the label is inaccurate. Misuse of labels doesn't contribute to rational discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    222. DavidinUSA "That's why the people elected a Rep Congress"

    Don't you think you are being a bit disingenuous by ignoring the extreme gerrymandering that allowed the Repugs to get fewer overall votes for The House than the Democrats and still maintain their majority?

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    172. MidwesternSue
    The HHS regulation says employers can't force their beliefs on their employees. It does not force anyone to take birth control against their will. Freedom of religion applies to individual people, not businesses or corporations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    185. AndreaNY "Republicans just need to provide one"

    You mean like Marco, repeating the same old Repug boiler plate. Even David Brooks said it had little substance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    141. powermeerkat "Failing that - Second Amendment.
    [guess who's gonna prevail]"

    You still looking for your American Pinochet, your Chilean hero? You must have really liked the way his death squads dealt with the opposition. Even blew some up in Washington D. C. Your support for democracy is so thin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Alien Americans? Americans are a nation of immigrants, unless your name happens to be something like Sitting Bull or Geronimo.
    Is the GOP trying to say that the only real Americans are gun-loving, N*****r hating, Anglo-Saxon religious bigots?

  • Comment number 293.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 292.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    288 Dr Bob Matthews
    "a lot of people in the World including a number of Americans would take issue with your totally insane stance."

    Until they need to be bailed out...then comes the apology rhetoric!

    Of course the Communist/Socialist Americans which you speak of (Obama...etc) will be on your side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    #288.Dr Bob Matthews
    "Murder, brutalising your neighbour, land theft, restricting supplies of food and water, piracy in international waters may be acceptable in your twisted version of morality...blah"

    Please don't talk in such frank terms about the Arab political culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    268. MagicKirin
    I don't know who you are writing about. This is who I am writing about.

    You expect to be taken seriously -- wonders never end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    DavidinUSA Please don't try preaching morals to me you lost that right a long time ago. Murder, brutalising your neighbour, land theft, restricting supplies of food and water, piracy in international waters may be acceptable in your twisted version of morality , but a lot of people in the World including a number of Americans would take issue with your totally insane stance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    #285.Dr Bob Matthews
    "As you hate the EU so much perhaps we should refuse you entry!"

    So much for EU-style freedom of speech! The spirit of Vichy, perhaps?

    I do dislike the EU. But the UK may soon leave the EU if the referendum goes ahead, and England may soon be free of a parasitical Scotland, so the cause of freedom in Europe is looking quite good...


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