Tuesday, August 21 will go down in history as the day that a sitting President of the United States was named as a co-conspirator in a criminal activity that could ultimately lead to the end of his administration. As John Dean, former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, told Bloomberg News: “I think we’ve established today that we have a criminal president, and that is historic.”
The history books will likely pay less attention to the political fate of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), but Tuesday was a monumental day for Colorado’s junior Senator nonetheless. Gardner was riding with the President on Air Force One when news broke that two former Trump associates — onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort and former personal attorney/fixer Michael Cohen — had been convicted of serious crimes that could foretell doom for the Trump administration. When Trump descended from Air Force One for a campaign rally in West Virginia, he was followed by West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and a smiling, waving Gardner.
The significance of this moment for Gardner is unmistakable. For months Gardner has been inching closer to Trump’s inner circle. Small admonitions have morphed into demonstrations of blind loyalty. What we saw on Tuesday was just the final step. Gardner permanently hitched his political wagon to Trump when he descended from Air Force One behind the President, grinning and waving on the tarmac just before Trump addressed the media on the Manafort/Cohen bombshells.
As Bloomberg News reports, Gardner was apparently a source of comfort for Trump on the darkest day of his Presidency to date:
Aboard Air Force One en route to West Virginia, Trump watched Fox News coverage of the Manafort verdict and Cohen’s plea, two people near him said…
…But there was no joking around on Air Force One like there sometimes is.
People close to the president reassured him and shared ways to deal with fallout from double-barreled bad news. What Trump was most interested in: How it’s all playing.
Aides were aware Tuesday was a very bad day and were relieved the president wasn’t sitting in the White House residence tied to the television for the evening. His travel companions, Congressman Alex Mooney and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, both of West Virginia, and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, distracted him with conversation about legislative issues and other topics, the people added. [Pols emphasis]
You can also bury any excuse that Trump or Gardner weren’t aware of the severity of the moment. Politico’s Lorraine Woellert was part of the press gaggle on Air Force One:
As the plane throttled for takeoff, everything hit: Trump’s former campaign manager had been convicted of a felony and the president’s onetime fixer was turning against him in a campaign corruption case.
This wasn’t just a case of terrible timing for Gardner, either. Gardner was with Trump in West Virginia in part because of his duties as Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), though Gardner did not accompany the President on similar recent campaign stops in North Dakota and Indiana. Gardner didn’t need to be with Trump on Tuesday, but there he was.
Later, at a campaign rally for Republican Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey, Trump made a point of acknowledging Gardner from the podium. Said Trump:
This is a man that makes a promise and it’s 100% good. He’s tremendous and has done so much. He’s from a place called Colorado. And he’s helping to lead our campaign to elect more Senate Republicans, like the man we’re going to elect in West Virginia. Cory Gardner. Thank you, Cory, thank you. [Trump looks to his left and pumps his fist enthusiastically] Great job. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.
Trump is still planning to run for re-election in 2020. As far as we know, so is Gardner.
The political futures for these two Republicans are now intertwined. For better or for worse, Cory Gardner is an official member of Team Trump.