Goldberg: Attack on Pride in Colorado further splits the GOP

The state party president, who is running for Congress, is counting on homophobia to secure the base.

By Michelle Goldberg / The New York Times

The Colorado Republican Party last week sent a mass email with the subject line, “God Hates Pride.”

The missive denounced Pride Month as a time when “godless groomers” attack what is “decent, holy and righteous.” It included a clip of a sermon by a famously misogynist pastor named Mark Driscoll, with thumbnail text proclaiming — in a nod to the slogan of the obscenely antigay Westboro Baptist Church — “God Hates Flags.” The party also posted on the social media platform X, “Burn all the #pride flags this June.”

These messages, which have rocked Republican politics in Colorado, are the latest demonstration of how Donald Trump’s MAGA movement has thrown state parties into turmoil. But they’ve also set off a furious backlash from within the party, an indication that beneath a thin veneer of pro-Trump unanimity, old-school Republicans are locked in a power struggle with the fanatics, trolls and conspiracy theorists Trump has empowered. It’s a strange dynamic: a bloc of conservatives who’ve mostly capitulated to Trump are still fighting Trumpism, as if the two things can be separated.

In Colorado, Dave Williams, who was elected party chair last year, embodies the Trumpist takeover of the Republican Party. In 2021, as ProPublica reported, Steve Bannon called on election deniers to flood Republican parties at the local level, and in Colorado as elsewhere, they listened. “There was kind of a movement in the party, I think it was propelled by Steve Bannon, to really take control,” said Chuck Broerman, a longtime Republican official in El Paso County, where Williams lives.

These new party activists, said Broerman, elevated Williams, a hard-right figure known for his antigay politics since he was an undergraduate student body president who was impeached for discriminating against an LGBTQ+ campus group.

Williams quickly set about making the state party a tool of the MAGA movement. The party used to stay neutral in Republican primaries, but under Williams, it started endorsing candidates. The party’s candidate questionnaire asks, “Do you support President Trump’s populist, America-first agenda?” Those who want the party’s endorsement must also say whether they “denounce” Americans for Prosperity, the organization established by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which supported Nikki Haley in the recent Republican presidential primary.

One of the candidates the party endorsed was Williams himself, who is running for Congress in Colorado’s very Republican 5th District. He’s facing Jeff Crank, regional vice president of Americans for Prosperity, in the primary, and, as The Colorado Sun has reported, using party money to support his campaign. Williams is backed by Trump and the House Freedom Caucus, while Crank, the favorite in the race, was endorsed by House Speaker Mike Johnson. Except for a few issues like funding for Ukraine, which Williams opposes and Crank supports, the split isn’t exactly ideological. It’s more about ethics — a lot of people are furious at Williams’ appropriation of party resources — and style.

In this battle, Williams’ antigay provocations have become an unexpected flashpoint. Mainstream conservatives might “agree with him on gay issues,” said Dick Wadhams, the state Republican Party chair from 2007 to 2011. But “I don’t think they like the tone, the hateful tone of what he put out,” he said, and “they think his conduct has become embarrassing.” Republican leaders from across the state have called for him to step down, and since he’s refused, some have launched a drive to remove him.

Valdamar Archuleta, a Republican congressional candidate in Denver and president of the state chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for gay members of the GOP, repudiated the state party’s endorsement over its antigay rhetoric. “I do think this is going to be a movement that’s going to force Colorado Republicans to kind of wake up and say, ‘All right, we can’t just sit back and give up on our state and let the fringe element of the party control the party,” said Archuleta, who is voting for Trump in November.

But, thanks to Trump, that “fringe element” already controls the party. To force Williams from office, his opponents would need 60% of the votes in the state party’s central committee. Given the makeup of the party, that seems unlikely. “I think the only way he gets removed is that Donald Trump himself calls for him to be removed,” said Eli Bremer, who was chair of the El Paso County Republican Party when Williams was vice chair of it.

Trump will almost certainly not do that. The ex-president may not be particularly homophobic, at least by Republican standards, but he knows that many of his most devoted supporters are Christian nationalists who see the LGBTQ+ movement as part of the constellation of subversive forces that have stolen the country from them. That’s why antigay paranoia and election denialism fit together so naturally. Indeed, within the context of Republican politics, Archuleta is probably more of an outlier than Williams. According to a Gallup poll taken last year, only 41% of Republicans believe that same-sex relationships are morally acceptable.

Wadhams points out that the “God Hates Pride” email might have been strategic. “Some people think that he put out this hateful anti-Pride message in order to try to really rev up his base, because I think he understands that he might lose this,” he said of Williams’ primary bid. (In Colorado, independents, who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans, can vote in party primaries.) “And maybe he thinks the only way he can get back in the game is to really energize his base of support.”

Attacks from other Republicans could help him do that. “He’s very good at playing the ‘I am a victim’ card,” said Wadhams. “You know, ‘The establishment, the RINOs are all after me.’” It’s pretty clear where he learned that from.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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