CNN reports on what could be rightly considered an inevitable development as we close in on three months before the fateful 2020 presidential election–GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given the signal that vulnerable Republican Senators up for re-election in November alongside an imploding President Donald Trump can, if they determine it is politically expedient to do so, make for the lifeboats:
In recent weeks, the Senate majority leader has become so concerned over Republicans losing control of the Senate that he has signaled to vulnerable GOP senators in tough races that they could distance themselves from the President if they feel it is necessary, according to multiple senior Republicans including a source close to McConnell.
That could mean breaking with Trump on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the continued efforts by the President to paint an optimistic picture despite rising cases and deaths across parts of the country, especially in many Republican states in the South and Midwest.
The process of staking out daylight between the campaigns of vulnerable Republicans and Donald Trump is well underway in some races around the country, best evidenced by Sen. Susan Collins’ ever-so-slowly escalating criticism of the President in recent months. In Colorado, however, Sen. Cory Gardner has made no effort to undo the basically locked-in perception at this point of Gardner as one of Trump’s closest allies. This week’s reassurance by Gardner that despite what Trump suggested, there would be no delaying the election over Trump’s fictitious concerns about mail ballots, notably did not include a defense of Colorado’s mail ballot system–which Gardner has defended in the past, but not directly in response to Trump as he had the opportunity to do on Thursday.
The problem for Gardner’s is that his image as a principal ally of Trump–Trump told cheering crowds in Colorado Springs last February how Gardner showed “no waver” in his commitment–is so firmly embedded in the public consciousness that to pivot only 90 days from the election, after so many
opportunities moral obligations to do so, would be broadly identified for the shameless act that it is. Not to mention, CNN continues:
While this may give some senators the flexibility to draw a distinction between themselves and the President, it also forces them to walk a tightrope. Trump remains enormously popular with the Republican base, and any attempts to undercut him risks alienating those voters. [Pols emphasis]
“These vulnerable senators can’t afford to explicitly repudiate Trump,” said one senior Republican on Capitol Hill. “They just need to show they are independent on issues important in their states.”
Even if Mitch McConnell gives Gardner a hall pass to start disagreeing with Trump on various minor points of controversy, this carries with it the grave risk of alienating the Republican base. In Colorado, that base overwhelmingly remains loyal to Trump, is already not real keen on Gardner, and on guard for exactly the kind of “disloyalty” McConnell is opening the door to. There’s no realistic hope for Gardner to split the ticket with anti-Trump voters, so to lose Republicans would leave Gardner without any core base of support at all.
If Gardner could ever have “jumped ship” and saved himself from going down with Trump, the moment was six months ago–at least. If Gardner tries it now, three months from the election and only after the all-clear has been given from Republican leadership to do it, Gardner action is neither loyal nor courageous.
It is what Sun Tzu called “the noise before defeat.”