UPDATE: This is not equivocal:
I ran @SenJohnMcCain political world for 10 years & can tell you what is going on in AZ is above board & by the rules. The @NRSC & @SenCoryGardner are not only spreading lies & nutty theories, but undermining democracy. @RepMcSally lost this race when she became Trump clone.
— John Weaver (@jwgop) November 11, 2018
Following up on our discussion Friday about rapidly escalating inflammatory Republican rhetoric in two undecided U.S. Senate races in Florida and Arizona–rhetoric that falls squarely on the shoulders of National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Cory Gardner–Gardner appeared this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he was confronted by host Chuck Todd about the state of play in these races, including bipartisan condemnation of the NRSC’s casual allegations of vote fraud without factual basis.
Gardner acquitted himself and his organization poorly:
TODD: Uh, there was a staffer of yours at the NRSC who was quoted as saying that, uh, “an official in Maricopa county was quote unquote trying to cook the books.” It inspired this Tweet from Mark Salter, the longtime chief of staff for the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, and he Tweets this, “Stop doing this, NRSC. McSally is losing fair and square, and she’s underperforming in more than Maricopa. The race is almost certainly lost and nothing will change that. All this does is poison our politics more. Despicable.” [Pols emphasis] What do you say to Mr. Salter?
GARDNER: [PAUSE] Well I think we do have a chance to win in Florida, I mean in Arizona, I don’t think there is a path, we’ve seen it in the numbers, but I do think it’s important that we protect the people of Arizona. We can’t sit by and allow votes to be counted in Maricopa that would not be counted somewhere else…that’s not fair…
TODD: I understand that, but did you approve of, did you approve of your staffer saying things like ‘cook the books?’ I mean, it does, by throwing that language in there, as you know it automatically polarizes the two sides. The minute language like that gets used.
GARDNER: Well look, I [PAUSE] there’s a lot of releases that are gonna go out that I don’t see, or, and I’m not familiar with this one, [Pols emphasis] but what I do think is important, and it’s not the first time somebody has been accused of cooking the books, or rigging the outcome of an election, I think that’s the last two years have been about, by Democrats trying to go after President Trump on that as well. So, what I think we have to do and what we’ve proven in the court in Arizona, or excuse me the agreements we’ve come to in Arizona is a way to treat voters equally across the state. We, look, this is about making sure the votes are counted, and the votes are counted fairly, and that’s what I think we’re getting to in Arizona finally.
We took particular note of the pauses after Chuck Todd’s questions to Gardner, because those pregnant pauses are extremely rare for our state’s normally-polished junior Senator. We’re not at all sure that Gardner is telling the truth when he claims he doesn’t know what his own staff is saying about the Arizona Senate race, in fact that seems highly unlikely. But the more important takeaway here is Gardner’s abject failure, complete with a rare breach of Gardner’s impenetrable car salesman confidence, to bridge the gap between the NRSC’s incendiary rhetoric and reality.
Make no mistake: the worse the rhetoric gets in Florida and Arizona, the worse it will be for Cory Gardner when (or if) he faces the voters of Colorado again in 2020. As chairman of the NRSC he owns everything that happens in these tight races as much as Donald Trump himself. In a state that has turned against the Party of Trump in historic fashion in 2018, becoming the public face of Republican desperation in 2018’s wake is the last thing Gardner needs if he wants to be re-elected.
Unfortunately for Cory Gardner, his own viability is not what matters today.