Sunday 25 September 2016

Freewheeling Boulder fails to rock Republican party

The Colorado city, famed for pot and streakers is no place for a conservative knees-up writes Marian McKeown

Marian McKeown

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

TRUMP: Republicans are beginning to despair
TRUMP: Republicans are beginning to despair

To mark the end of Halloween every year, as many as 200 upstanding citizens stampede stark naked down Boulder's equivalent of Grafton Street, their heads encased in hollowed out pumpkins which protect their identity, if not their modesty.

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It's illegal of course, but no one pays much attention to that. Even the Mayor and the legal establishment failed to support the police chief's attempt to crack down on the tradition by arresting a dozen of the less fleet-footed streakers and slapping them with indecent exposure charges.

Defence lawyers for the 'Pumpkin 12' claimed Boulder was turning into Tehran. The judge appeared to agree and charges against them were dropped or reduced to disorderly conduct.

This is, after all, a town where several 'enlightened smoking' shops do a roaring trade plying 50 varieties of Rocky Mountain High within a stoner's throw of the courthouse.

Boulder is, in short, a Republican's worst nightmare, a pot smoking, quasi-anarchic outpost where the most common hair colour is Molochino (that's purple to you and me) and facial piercings are literally cheaper by the dozen. Young Muslim woman in hijabs flirt with young men wearing cowboy hats and Wranglers. The newly-minted hippy millionaires who cashed in on Colorado's legalisation of recreational cannabis hang out with skiing champions and outdoor sports fanatics. Billionaire retirees and tech whizz kids co-exist peacefully with grizzled ranchers and hunters.

That's what enough premium grade pot and a breathtaking setting at the bottom of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains will do for you.

Unless of course you're a member of the American Conservative Union or the National Rifle Association, several thousand of which arrived on Boulder's picturesque streets for a stampede of a very different variety. For three days, Boulder doubled as a picture-perfect petri dish for petrified Republicans. For them, it's a microcosm of everything that is wrong with America.

During a heated discussion on the decline of the American morals, Boulder was pointed to as an example of what happens when you let a Democrat into the White House. The country finds itself awash with wasted, same-sex sodomites quicker than you can say 'Hillary Rodham Clinton'

And as the 'Rumble in the Rockies', as Wednesday's televised Republican debate was nicknamed, got ready to roar, what everyone wanted to know, including the Republicans themselves, is why on earth the GOP debate was being held here.

Simple, really. Colorado is one of just seven key swing states that will decide the outcome of the 2016 general election. Colorado - along with Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and New Hampshire - is a purple state, the Holy Grail that leads to the White House.

It is a state the Republicans desperately need to win if they are to succeed in their bid to recapture the White House. And it will be won or lost by fewer than 130,000 or so independent votes that are currently up for grabs.

During two-day National Rifle Association-sponsored 'boot' camp that preceded Thursday night's debate, strategists concluded that to win Colorado, Republicans need 90,000 of those votes.

The votes, in fact, of those very same people who like to run buck naked down high streets with pumpkins on their heads.

To welcome the Republicans, the historic Hotel Boulderado has decked out its magnificent lobby with ghouls of all varieties. Giant bats swoop from stained glass ceilings, Witches cackle and vampires grin evilly. "We want to make sure they feel right at home here," a receptionist says deadpan. A skeletal human leg - intact from pelvis to phalanges lies casually on a lobby table.

Outside, protesters haul 12-foot papier-mache puppets of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio around the pedestrianised zone to robust cheers.

Right now the Republican Party has bigger problems; it is convulsed by internal battles.

The far-right Tea Party has waged war on Washington via obstructionist tactics, while centrists and moderate Republicans accuse them of leading the GOP over a cliff.

But the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy has focused their minds and forced them into the Grand Ballroom of the Millennium Harvest Hotel, a dreary 80s eyesore tucked away behind a Safeway and a shopping mall. For two days, Republicans of all stripes hunker down at the 'Rumble in the Rockies Boot Camp'. Giant screens beam out soft focus pictures of Ronald Reagan and eyes mist over as they recall the halcyon days when their hero was at the helm and all was right in the world. But then it's back to the future and strategists deliver a crash course on how to win the 2016 election.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Obama might be surprised to hear the almost reverent tones with which his 2012 campaign is discussed by GOP strategists, who deliver an hour-long presentation exhorting the assembled followers to adopt Obama's meticulous 'precinct by precinct, county by county' 2012 approach.

"This is how you do it, folks. This is what we've got to do to win," strategist Ned Ryun tells the assembled crowd. 'The days of relying on the gut instincts of insiders are over."

"We're in deep trouble here," one voice pipes up from the crowd. "You're asking us to go out and win a campaign when we don't even have candidate who comes near Hillary Clinton."

Conversations with key Republicans confirm that morale amongst the grassroots is a real problem. They blame inert GOP leadership in Washington and the civil war within the party. They despair of Donald Trump and the wounds they believe he is inflicting on the party's image.

"Trump exists because of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner," Peter Knickerbocker, chairman of Let Freedom Ring, the conservative advocacy group that is co-sponsoring the event, tells me. "You have to ask what has happened to the Republican Party when you have a guy like Trump leading the polls?"

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