Rep. Scott R. Tipton had not made any of the mistakes that typically unseat a member of Congress. He spent 10 years in Congress without a hint of scandal. He helped bring the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado’s western slope, the sort of economic coup that usually secures reelection. And he got an endorsement from the president, branding him a “great supporter of the #MAGA Agenda!”
But Tipton’s congressional career is over, after his defeat Tuesday by gun rights activist and gun-themed restaurant owner Lauren Boebert. The first-time candidate, who spent less than $120,000 on her race, unseated Tipton on the premise that the co-chair of President Trump’s Colorado campaign was not sufficiently pro-Trump and not doing enough to win the cultural war against the president.
Boebert’s win was the latest proof, if more was needed, of just how strongly the president has redefined the Republican Party and its priorities. While distraught ex-Republicans run ads against him, and while rumors swirl about how endangered senators will separate their campaigns from his, loyalty to the president is, more than ever, the determinant of whether a Republican can win a primary.
Boebert’s well-known flirtation with the QAnon conspiracy theory, in which Trump is secretly at war against a murderous “deep state,” did not hurt her campaign or even draw a rebuke from national Republicans. Even as the president’s poll numbers slip, there is no way for a Republican candidate to be too close to the president. Footage and quotes from Republicans who criticized Trump before his presidency, even when they criticized him from the right, is the most combustible material any campaign can use against them. And because so many Republicans criticized the future president at so many moments, there’s plenty of it to go around.
Ten Republican candidates have, so far, advanced to runoffs or won their nominations while expressing some support for QAnon theories. (None responded to interview requests this week.) They have generally, Boebert included, kept their endorsements of the theories as generic as possible. In a May interview with online host Ann Vandersteel, Boebert talked about QAnon only when prompted and dealt with none of the theory’s specifics.
“That’s more my mom’s thing; she’s a little fringe,” Boebert said. “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real, because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values. And that’s what I am for.”
That was enough for Democrats to attack Boebert, the first nominee to speak positively about the conspiracy theory and win a nomination in a Republican-friendly district. She faces a runoff election Aug. 11. But Republicans stood by Boebert, accusing Democrats of peddling “their radical conspiracy theories and pushing their radical cancel culture,” without tackling the substance of the attack.