Cory Gardner: Same Dog, Same Tricks

Sen. Cory Gardner (right) has been fully onboard with President Trump.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon Jr. is looking ahead to the next Congress and wondering which Senators will be the new “swing votes.” Bacon thinks that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) may fit the mold:

We can stop obsessing so much about how Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are going to vote. Long the crucial swing votes in the U.S. Senate, they will still be crucial to the GOP’s majority, but for the next two years, when the Senate considers legislation that Democrats unanimously oppose, the real deciders are likely to be Cory Gardner and Mitt Romney.

Bacon’s premise is based on a logical course of action for Gardner, making the assumption that Gardner both should and will attempt to moderate his image as he prepares to run for re-election in 2020:

Colorado’s Gardner has a more obvious reason to potentially vote against controversial Trump appointees and judges: political survival. It’s hard to see Trump winning Colorado in 2020 — he lost there by 5 percentage points in 2016. When Gardner is up for re-election in 2020, he will likely need some Democrats or independents to back him even as they vote against Trump. And at least right now, it would be hard for Gardner to separate himself from the president: He backs the Trump position 91 percent of the time. And, among the 100 current senators, he is tops in voting with Trump more often than the political ideology of his state would predict. [Pols emphasis]

Being a Republican in a blue state who almost always backs Trump and GOP initiatives is politically dangerous. Nevada’s Dean Heller, who was the last Congress’s second-most pro-Trump senator compared to his state’s politics, can attest to that — he just lost his re-election race.

It’s not difficult to argue that Gardner should try to move more to the middle if he hopes to earn another term in the Senate, particularly given that he will appear on the same ballot as President Trump in a state that just saw massive Democratic gains. It’s also not entirely clear that Gardner intends to make such a strategic shift even if he should. Gardner sounded very Trumpish following the 2018 election; he claimed that Colorado did not witness a “Blue Wave” despite the fact that everyone in the state is sopping wet, and he fed wild conspiracy theories to explain Republican troubles in states such as Arizona.

Gardner’s longtime right-hand man, Chris Hansen, recently made it clear that Republicans are running with President Trump “no matter what,” which presumably includes Colorado in 2020. Gardner’s increasingly-public appearances with the President make any obfuscation all the more difficult.

The more important question, then, is whether Gardner can make a meaningful move to the middle after how he has so clearly fallen in behind Donald Trump (and even though it often backfires on him). As you can see from the chart below, Gardner has voted with Trump to a degree that absolutely does not reflect the will of Coloradans:

Via FiveThirtyEight


That Gardner has a natural tendency to say one thing and do the opposite has not been lost on Coloradans. Gardner’s approval ratings have been consistently terrible since the 2016 election, and he’s not just unpopular with Democrats and Unaffiliated voters — his Republican base isn’t particularly fond of him, either. President Trump is not viewed favorably in Colorado, but the Big Orange Guy isn’t nearly as disliked as Gardner. In fact, Gardner could be dealing with a Primary challenge before he even gets a chance to worry about a General Election. In that case, he’ll face more pressure to move ever rightward in order to preserve his hold on the GOP nomination.

In the 2014 election, Gardner famously said that he wanted to “shake up the Senate.” Perhaps he’ll actually try to do that in 2019 and become something like the “swing vote” that FiveThirtyEight envisions.

Or maybe Cory Gardner just is who he is.

15 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ohwilleke says:

    The FiveThirtyEight model is, no doubt intentionally, piss poor and obviously isn't intended to be predictive, unlike most FiveThirtyEight models.

    An honest comparison would compare the rank order of Senators in supporting Trump when they vote v. the rank order of the Trump voting percentage in the state from which they were elected. Gardner is in the middle of the pack by that measure in Trump support although he represents a state that should put him with Collins and leave him less likely to support Trump than Flake.

    Rather than drifting blue as Colorado has over the last four years, Gardner has drifted red from the place he left the impression that he was in when he was elected to the Senate from Colorado. Colorado historically has had some of the more moderate Senators in the U.S. Senate (e.g. Ben Knighthorse-Campbell).

  2. JohnInDenver says:

    Who knows what Cory Gardner's ambitions might be.

    4 years into his first term, he's already a Subcommittee chair and served as a "successful" leader for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (R+3).  He regularly gets invited to appear just behind the Majority Leader (his hair and smile apparently are welcome) and he's flown on Air Force One and gotten his picture with Trump on the stairway as they went to a Trump rally.

    It is hard to imagine Cory Gardner standing out from his caucus EXCEPT on marijuana and land use in the West. I don't recall him voting against any of Trump's nominees for judicial seats or executive service.

    • RepealAndReplace says:

      Actually, R+2. They picked up four and lost two for a net of two.

    • Early Worm says:

      I agree about Gardner's ambitions. If he does not moderate his votes, and then loses the election (or the primary), he still has a likely lucrative career ahead of himself as a former Senator. It really isn't a bad gig, and may be better than the Senate job – see, Armstrong, Brown, Wirth, Nighthorse Campbell, and Salazar.

  3. unnamed says:

    The Colorado Republican Party in the 2018 elections and Gardner's attitude as represented by Monty Python:

  4. Davie says:

    Trump is not going to get any more popular by 2020, so assuming any one of the several popular, experienced Democratic names bandied about are nominated and run at least a middling-good campaign, Gardner is definitely the underdog regardless of where he positions himself vis-a-vis Trump (see: Coffman, Mike).

    Alternative future:  Trump loses the 2020 election, claims massive voter fraud, declares election null and void, declares martial law, and Cory is appointed military governor of Colorado.  That's about the only way I see him in office past 2020.

  5. davebarnes says:

    "Trump is not going to get any more popular by 2020".
    He is at 43% in Colorado right now according to Floyd Cirulli.
    Every day, an old white man dies.
    Every day, a young person becomes a voter.
    Every day, a woman finally says: "I am done with that misogynist asshole".

    I predict that The Dumpster® will be below 40% in Colorado in October 2020.

  6. mamajama55 says:

    Why on earth would Cory Gardner still be running for Senate in 2020?  He clearly would have an uphill battle and his talents might be better used elsewhere. Granted, he's ambitious, but surely a cabinet position under Drumpf would gratify his ego. If it's, say, secretary of energy, or a foreign policy position fitting with all of his globe-trotting and dictator canoodling, the donations will still come pouring into whatever dark money issue committee he (doesn't wink wink nod nod) coordinate with.

    Or he could simply go the more direct route and simply lobby, again probably for  energy or health insurance industries.

    Cory does have the charm, the good hair and the grin, and most of all he's got the forked-tongue glibberish and tergiversation going on. Perhaps the Republican Party sees him as a Great White Hope or something.

    But let's face it, Cory Gardner is just not an inspiring leader. While the Screaming Yam apparently reached right back and yanked on people's ids and tweaked that sense of grievance right into power, Gardner's never been very good at that. A demagogue he's not.  And he's tried to be. People are more likely to whisper, baffled , "WTF did he just say?" rather than scream "Lock her/him up!"

    With the fake insurance cancellation, and the "My wife got a threatening text that I never got investigated", Cory's always trying to play a victim card – but it never works out.  He's just not playing to that alpha-male, gonna-protect-ya-baby, I-feels-ur-pain thing like the hairy orange baboon does. So my predictions for Gardner are 1) cabinet position 2) cushy lobbyist job or 3) veep candidate in waiting.

    • Duke Cox says:

       I agree completely with that.

      Cory doesn't have "President" in his future. Vice President…yeah, sure.

      Cory is not a brave man…he will take the path of least resistance. His proclivity for ambulating through life as an ass-kisser of billionaires has shown him he doesn't need to work or take risks. Just keep sucking up, keep counting the money.

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