Last week’s vote by the U.S. Senate to terminate President Donald Trump’s border wall national emergency, in which Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado ended weeks of self-generated confusion over his shifting stands on the issue and voted to protect the President, provoked a backlash against Gardner locally that feels much different and more profound than previous such episodes. Kicked off by the Denver Post’s retraction of their controversial 2014 endorsement of Gardner’s election Thursday, Gardner’s last few days of earned media have been easily some of the most brutal of his career.
“Gardner has been too busy walking a political tight rope to be a leader. He has become precisely what we said in our endorsement he would not be: ‘a political time-server interested only in professional security,’” the editorial board wrote. “Trump’s declaration is an abuse of his power, a direct overturning of Congress’ deliberate decision to pass a federal budget without funding for a wall.”
“Put simply this is a constitutional crisis and one of Colorado’s two senators has failed the test,” the paper added. “We no longer know what principles guide the senator and regret giving him our support in a close race against Mark Udall.”
Gardner is one of the Democrats’ top targets heading into the 2020 election cycle, as they hope to capitalize on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s victory in The Centennial State in 2016. Though the Colorado Republican often touts his bipartisanship, Gardner votes with Trump over 90 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Roll Call’s Emily Kopp:
In its 2014 endorsement, The Denver Post lauded Gardner as an energetic moderate, citing what the paper described as his “restraint” toward military spending. The editorial board cheered the Yuma Republican, saying the Senate “needs fresh leadership, energy and ideas, and Cory Gardner can help provide them in the U.S. Senate.”
The most recent editorial states that optimism is no longer warranted.
Fox News’ Kathleen Joyce:
“This is a bogus emergency that takes executive over-reach to an extreme not seen even under President Barack Obama,” the op-ed stated. “Trump’s declaration is an abuse of his power, a direct overturning of Congress’ deliberate decision to pass a federal budget without funding for a wall.”
The Post said it was “surprised by Gardner’s vote” and called it “inconsistent with every stance he has taken on Trump’s presidency.”
There’s been much debate since 2014 about the role of the Denver Post’s endorsement in Gardner’s narrow victory over incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, by far the most substantial victory Colorado Republicans have enjoyed in well over a decade of mostly consecutive electoral defeats in this state. Udall was well-loved by the Democratic base in Colorado and respected by his Senate colleagues, and his defeat by Gardner was a bitter pill that has left lingering resentment to this day–not least toward the Denver Post for their dismissive endorsement of Gardner.
In particular, as Westword’s Chase Woodruff astutely observed this weekend, was the arrogant manner in which the Post’s editorial board brushed off legitimate concerns about Gardner’s record:
The paper’s decision to endorse Gardner in 2014 was already notorious, especially among Colorado Democrats; it was a major coup for the upstart Republican congressman, lending him an aura of moderate credibility in an increasingly Democratic-leaning state. While it’s impossible to know for sure whether the Post’s support made a difference, political science research suggests that major newspaper endorsements can swing election results by between 2 and 5 percentage points. Gardner’s eventual margin over Udall was just 1.9 percent.
Crucially, as control of the Senate — and the all-important power to confirm judicial nominees, including Supreme Court justices — hung in the balance during the 2014 election, the Post’s endorsement became the target of national ridicule. The New Republic called it “baffling.” Salon called it “asinine.” Veteran political writer Charles Pierce called it “the most singularly box-of-rocks dumb rationale I ever read in my life.”
That’s why it’s not enough to say: Cory Gardner isn’t who we thought he was. Plenty of people spent all of 2014 telling voters exactly who Gardner was, exactly why his moderate makeover was fraudulent, and exactly what the consequences of his election could be. And the Post dismissed and belittled them. [Pols emphasis]
Well before Gardner voted against the resolution to terminate the national emergency he claimed originally he did not support, Gardner’s votes on abortion bills, and more importantly his support for two Republican Supreme Court justices with thinly-veiled anti-abortion agendas, destroyed the Post’s rationale in supporting Gardner that “contrary to Udall’s tedious refrain, Gardner’s election would pose no threat to abortion rights.”
On a range of issues from the Affordable Care Act to foreign policy, the reality of Gardner’s term in the U.S. Senate has made a mockery of what Colorado voters on both sides of the aisle were promised. Considered in aggregate, the Post had an obligation to put distance between their prediction of Gardner’s service in the U.S. Senate and the reality in hindsight for the sake of their own credibility–and if it hadn’t been the national emergency it would have been something else, and soon.
It was already looking like a tall order to replicate 2014’s narrow victory in a state that has only moved further away from Gardner’s party and politics. However belated or imperfect this recognition may be of what Cory Gardner really is and has done since winning in 2014, we are witnessing a turning point from which Gardner may have no way to politically recover.