Back when he ran for Senate in 2010, Ken Buck was considered a right-wing extremist. He called being gay a choice and likened it to alcoholism. Despite the Tea Party wave that year that swept in many conservative lawmakers, Mr Buck’s rhetoric made him too extreme even for a voting public that was angry about Barack Obama.
In the subsequent years, he won a seat in Congress in 2014 and briefly served as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. He has remained a staunch conservative, at one point posting a picture of himself with an AR-15 saying “come and take it”.
In addition, Mr Buck joined the House Freedom Caucus, the rambunctious group of rabble-rousers who served as a thorn in the side of House Republican leadership. When they initially started, as Tim Alberta’s book American Carnage chronicled, the Freedom Caucus had the working title of the “reasonable nutjobs,” the dichotomy being that while they were staunchly conservative, the caucus was invite-only and they did not allow for more fringe members such as Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann.
But unlike some of the more famous luminaries in the Freedom Caucus – such as Jim Jordan, future White House chief of staff Mark Meadows or future budget director Mick Mulvaney – Mr Buck never sought the spotlight.
Mr Buck never morphed into a pro-Trump sycophant in Congress, like some of his colleagues, though he voted for many of Mr Trump’s initiatives. On January 6, he broke from even many in House Republican leadership to certify the 2020 presidential election results.
Mr Buck also remained idiosyncratic, often criticising big tech companies and notably not using Google, as Politico Magazine noted in a profile.
Over time, though, Mr Buck seemed to become more dissatisfied and separate from his cohorts within the Freedom Caucus. He couldn’t bring himself to support the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden even as Mr McCarthy pushed full steam ahead with it.
More and more, he became more dissatisfied with how the Big Lie pervaded the GOP body politic. During the recent speaker’s race, he confronted Mr Jordan and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise about whether they thought the 2020 election was legitimate. That led him to opposing Mr Scalise and voting against Mr Jordan on the House floor (to be cheeky, he voted for House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, telling CNN he did so because he didn’t like Mr Emmer).
On Wednesday, he finally decided that he had enough with Congress and announced he would not seek re-election, lamenting the inability to get anything done.
But Mr Buck differs from some of the other critics within the GOP. Unlike Liz Cheney, who was willing to sacrifice her seat in Congress, he did not vote to impeach Mr Trump. Indeed, his fellow Freedom Caucus colleague, former congressman Justin Amash, risked ostracisation when he said Mr Trump should be impeached after the Mueller investigation and quit the Republican Party altogether.
Ultimately, Mr Buck found himself in the peculiar position of being in a party where he was gradually more out of place. But he was unwilling to sacrifice anything to steer the ship back onto its main course. He wanted conservatives to balance both the “reasonable” and the “nutjob” parts of the gig but did nothing to tip the scales back to “reasonable.”