Burgess Everett of Politico picks up on a theme we’ve visited time and again here on Colorado Pols: It’s no fun to be Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma). Take a look at what Everett has to say in a story subtitled “The lonely existence of Cory Gardner”:
Senate Republican campaigns chief Cory Gardner might’ve had the easiest job in Washington — if only Hillary Clinton had won.
Instead, the centrist-minded Coloradan has found himself in one of the toughest predicaments in town: leading the Republican battalion in what’s instead shaping up as an anti-Trump Democratic wave election, while at the same time trying to cut legislative deals with some of the senators he’s campaigning hardest to defeat. Gardner is going to need bipartisan accomplishments to survive his own swing-state reelection race in 2020.
It’s not exactly what the sunny, glad-handing pol was signing up for when he put in for the job just before the 2016 election.
“He’s a brave man,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman and now the party whip. “I admire him for being willing to take on the challenge.”
Talk about damning with faint praise — calling Gardner “brave” in a political sense is code for saying that he’s absolutely screwed.
Gardner campaigned hard to be the head guy at the NRSC at a time when it looked like Democrat Hillary Clinton was going to be President and Republicans would get to run against her for the next several years. The NRSC job was tantalizing enough that Gardner and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis once proposed serving as co-chairs; Gardner ended up getting the job all to himself, and there probably isn’t a day that goes by where Tillis doesn’t say a silent prayer of thanks for how this all worked out.
Things have not gone well for Gardner since he first got the NRSC job in November 2016. We don’t really need to elaborate on why it has been tough to be a Republican since Donald Trump moved into the White House, but it’s important to note that longtime GOP supporters and donors have been just as upset with Congressional Republicans who only managed to pass a single piece of significant legislation in 2017 (a tax plan that Gardner doesn’t discuss). Gardner’s fundraising struggles have been well-documented, and he’s still trying to rebuild burned bridges after NRSC staffers were caught stealing donor lists from their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee. Money has been so tight at the NRSC that Gardner has continually danced around the issue of giving back $100,000 from disgraced Nevada casino mogul Steve Wynn.
It’s telling that the normally-verbose Gardner is not exactly enthusiastic about Republican chances in 2018, as Politico explains:
Though Gardner never admits that his party’s prospects have declined due to Trump’s unpopularity and the failure to score top-tier candidates in states like Montana, he is realistic about the challenges he faces. When pressed on how many seats Republicans might be able to pick up, he does a brief impression of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with his Kentucky drawl, saying that predicting Senate races is a fool’s errand.
“I would not [put a number]. I am optimistic about every single one of these races. Part of that is just because of who I am,” Gardner said, noting how rarely the GOP has built majorities of more than 55 seats in the past century. “We have to contend with history.” [Pols emphasis]
History will show that 2017 was a positively terrible year for Gardner, and 2018 isn’t looking much better. Gardner’s 25% approval rating demonstrates an erosion of support on all sides; the last public poll for Gardner showed that only 38% of Colorado Republicans approved of his performance.
Gardner isn’t up for re-election until 2020, but the 2018 election will go a long way toward determining what’s left of his political future.