A long-form Politico story out today gives us some of the first detailed answers from Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado about the now-concluded investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections–an investigation that, despite a vigorous attempt by the White House to spin the final report’s conclusions, revealed deeply troubling and quite possibly criminal actions by the Trump administration up to and including President Donald Trump himself.
But where Sen. Mitt Romney in neighboring Utah declared himself “sickened” by the report’s recounting of the administration’s conduct, Cory Gardner remains…if not unshaken, without a doubt still firmly onboard the “Trump Train” despite it all:
“Look, it’s clear there were no merit badges earned at the White House for behavior,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in an interview downtown here. [Pols emphasis] “You have to focus on the heart of this conclusion, which is there is no collusion, no cooperation. That’s where the focus ought to be and how we prepare for the next elections to protect us from Russian intrusion and interference.”
…[B]eyond conceding there are some embarrassing details, Republicans don’t feel the need to create any new space between them and the president. The desire to stay in Trump’s good graces and keep his supporters appears to override any interest in using the episode to appeal to swing voters.
There’s a good argument that the die was cast for Gardner when he endorsed Trump’s re-election in late January, well ahead of the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation. It’s possible that Gardner had some foreknowledge that the report would not recommend an indictment of the President–a decent bet even without inside knowledge given Mueller’s deference to the Justice Department on that question, and the controversially expansive views of then-AG nominee William Barr on presidential power.
As long as the report wasn’t too bad, or was at least properly spun/redacted to minimize the immediate political damage, Gardner made the calculated decision to ride out of aftermath and in so doing retain his GOP base of support. Politically this was still a risky course, since
Democrats believe Gardner is perhaps the most endangered incumbent senator given Democrats’ sweeping wins in Colorado in 2018, Trump’s loss here in 2016 and Gardner’s own narrow victory in 2014, a GOP wave year. But Gardner is showing no signs of distress over having Trump at the top of the ticket…
The story concludes by observing what could be the undoing of Gardner’s delicately balanced position: the massive contradiction between Gardner’s steadfast support for Trump and his equally vociferous complaints about Russian interference in the 2016 election–which Gardner says is “hell-bent on the demise of the West.”
“What we have to move on to is to make sure we are protecting this country’s elections. We have a country [Russia] that is hell-bent on the demise of the West. And we can’t stand for that,” Gardner said. “Some are going to push for impeachment and do everything they can to strike that revenge; we need to protect people in this country.” [Pols emphasis]
Here we have Sen. Gardner conceding again that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections, and that interference was not intended to benefit the United States–what Gardner meant with the “demise of the West” stuff. But by characterizing the “push for impeachment” as “revenge” for the Russian interference Gardner claims to decry, he is establishing the crucial link between the Russian operation against the 2016 elections and the purpose of that operation: electing Donald Trump President of the United States.
Folks, how do you reconcile that contradiction? How do you decry the interference of a foreign government in an American election, yet celebrate the result of that interference? How do you declare that Russia is “hell-bent on the demise of the West” but support the Russian choice to be President of the United States?
The most logical answer is that you can’t. And this is going to backfire mightily.