Readers of Colorado Pols are well aware of the Faustian bargain that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) made when he fell in line firmly behind President Trump shortly after the 2016 election and tied his fortunes to the Big Orange Guy ahead of the 2018 election cycle. Any last hope that Gardner had for creating a sliver of daylight between himself and Trump evaporated in February, when the President told a cheering crowd in Colorado Springs that “he’s been with us 100%. There was no waver.”
As the 2020 Election grows ever closer, journalists around the country are catching up on Gardner’s dilemma. As Todd Purdum writes for The Atlantic, Gardner is a prime example of how Republicans nationwide have rolled over completely for Trump:
In the future museum of Never Trumpers turned Ever Trumpers, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado will have pride of place. [Pols emphasis] In 2016, Gardner called Donald Trump a “buffoon,” left the Republican National Convention after one day rather than watching him formally receive the party’s nomination, called for him to drop out of the race after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, and said he would write in Mike Pence’s name on his presidential ballot…
…“The party is now more a cult than a party,” says Norman Ornstein, a veteran congressional scholar at the American Enterprise institute and an Atlantic contributor. “The imperative not to be shunned or excommunicated is overwhelming—and it’s not just fear of Trump or Fox News. All their friends would treat them like apostates too.” GOP incumbents face a pragmatic choice, Ornstein told me: lose their base or risk losing swing voters. “They have all decided to double down on the base, and in Colorado that is an especially problematic choice, given the sizable number of suburban, college-educated voters repelled by Trump.”
As we wrote in this space last June, Gardner is positively terrified of crossing Trump even though it will likely cost him his seat in the U.S. Senate. In early 2019, Gardner became one of the first Senate Republicans to publicly endorse Trump’s re-election campaign — a remarkable turn of events considering that Gardner claims he didn’t even vote for the Republican Presidential nominee in 2016. In recent years, Gardner’s strategy related to Trump has been to go to ridiculous lengths to just not talk about it.
Democratic political adviser Craig Hughes, who managed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Denver) campaign in 2010, is as mystified as everyone else at Gardner’s spinal deficiencies:
“It’s baffling,” Hughes told me. “I don’t know how he wins at this point. He’s the only Republican elected statewide now as it is. It has huge implications. Colorado is a state that for decades has rewarded bipartisan and independent leadership, whether that’s the pragmatic streak of a Michael Bennet or the independent streak of a Gary Hart. I’m convinced that a politician as talented as Gardner could have dared a different path here. There was a way to navigate and be seen as loyal without completely abasing yourself to Donald Trump and everything he does.” [Pols emphasis]
The Yuma Republican could potentially turn things around before November, though you’d have trouble finding someone who would take that bet. Instead of navigating a political future around Trump, Gardner decided instead to go down with the ship.