Don’t Believe The Hype: Cory Gardner Did This To Himself

Donald Trump and Cory Gardner embrace voluntarily in Colorado Springs, February 20, 2020.

We’re 17 days out from the 2020 general election, and in Colorado certain inevitabilities are beginning to come into focus. Driven by unprecedented early turnout overwhelmingly led by Democratic and what’s assumed to be left-voting unaffiliated voters, an historic landslide election is shaping up for Colorado Democrats once again–with a strong possibility of further growing already historic majorities won in the 2018 midterms.

With Joe Biden polling as high as 14 points ahead of Donald Trump in Colorado, and by all expectations very little ticket-splitting expected from Colorado voters in 2020, it’s easy to make excuses for the impending doom surrounding the campaign of Republican incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, down by a least 10 points in every recent poll. And as we saw first yesterday in a story from the Denver Post’s Justin Wingerter, the pre-post-mortem spin of Gardner’s fate by Republicans is already underway:

“My perception is that Cory and his allies have together bought a huge amount of television time. At some point, does another $100,000 make any difference? I’m not sure it does,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair who has managed successful U.S. Senate campaigns.

“Cory’s problem is not that he does not have enough money in his account or that there’s not enough spending on that side. Cory’s biggest problem right now is the national political environment, and that has been driven by President Trump’s numbers against Joe Biden,” Wadhams said. “I’m not sure any money can offset that right now.”

CBS4 Denver echoed this scripted pre-buttal to defeat from former Colorado GOP chairman and longtime Republican campaign manager Dick Wadhams, who whatever else you can say about the man knows what losing looks and feels like:

“There still is a great deal of enthusiasm among Republicans for the president and Cory Gardner but I’m not going to to kid you or anybody else, Trump is a liability to Cory Gardner.” [Pols emphasis]

“It comes under the heading of life isn’t fair and neither is politics. Cory has run a magnificent campaign, he’s probably one of the best candidates we’ve ever fielded for statewide office in decades. John Hickenlooper, in my opinion, has been a miserable candidate with a campaign to match. Yet he might win this race solely because of the national political winds.”

“That’s just the brutal reality. I think Mike [Dino] and I have both been in politics long enough to know that sometimes there are factors beyond your control. In this case, that’s the case with Cory.”

This is a tempting story for Colorado Republicans to internalize, though they won’t be able to fully accept it until after Trump’s expected defeat in two and a half weeks. Cory Gardner wasn’t beaten on the merits, they’ll say, he was washed away in a wave against Trump from which no Republican was fully spared. It’s not that the voters rejected Cory Gardner, they’ll say, or Republican legislators who lose their seats with him. “National political winds” sealed the fate of these poor innocent bystanders.

And it’s completely wrong. Republicans seeking to blame losses in 2020 on “national political winds” are ignoring the extent which the GOP was rejected all the way down the ballot by Colorado voters in both 2016 and 2018. Every election in Colorado since Gardner’s narrow victory in 2014 has resulted in big losses for Republicans at all levels, including in 2016 when Trump lost Colorado–albeit by a smaller margin than the polls show Trump losing in 2020. As for John Hickenlooper’s supposed “weakness” as a candidate and Gardner’s “magnificent campaign,” it’s just a silly fictionalization of actual events. Republicans invested basically their entire campaign against Hickenlooper in Frank McNulty’s wildly overhyped ethics complaint, while Gardner became a national symbol of Republicans’ willful refusal to acknowledge Trump’s failed presidency. Gardner was considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republican Senators up in 2020 all the way back in January of 2019, when polls showed him losing by a wide margin to a generic Democrat.

We’ve sometimes wondered whether Colorado’s U.S. Senate race would look different if Gardner had taken a different path after Trump’s election, the path he started down when he declared “I cannot and will not support someone who brags about degrading and assaulting women” and called for Trump to pull out of the race in October of 2016. The final abandonment of this once-honorable position for Gardner in last Tuesday’s debate, when Gardner said Trump is an “ethical and moral man” without ever reconciling this with this previous words.

Obviously had Hillary Clinton prevailed in 2016 as Gardner and everyone else expected, this year’s elections would look different. But if Gardner had approached Trump’s victory with the wariness of fellow GOP Sens. John McCain, Ben Sasse, and later Mitt Romney among other examples he served with in the U.S. Senate, would Gardner be losing by the double-digit margin he is today? The answer is maybe not. But when you consider other issues like the Affordable Care Act, which Gardner vilified throughout his career in federal office and now polls better than at any time in its history, or abortion, the issue Gardner was able to gum to death in 2014 but now looms large before an expected 6-3 conservative Supreme Court, there’s just no reason to believe Gardner would be winning this essentially blue state today no matter how he had dealt with Trump. And that’s before you factor in what the proselytized GOP base does to Republicans who stray from the MAGA party line.

From Obamacare to embracing Trump to the treachery Gardner joined in against Merrick Garland, Cory Gardner made conscious choices that led to the electoral abyss. Gardner didn’t have to morph shamelessly from one of Trump’s harshest critics to closest allies. Likewise, Colorado Republicans as a whole didn’t have to lurch out of the mainstream under Patrick Neville and Ken Buck. If Colorado Republicans take the easy way out of reckoning their losses in 2020 from Cory Gardner on down, blaming externalities instead of looking inward, they are setting the stage to become a permanent minority.

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22 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. gertie97 says:

    Cory is toast because he picked the wrong horse to ride.

    The same thing happens at the track.

    Thanks for playing, Cory.

  2. davebarnes says:

    You misspelled Dickwad Hams, again.

  3. RepealAndReplace says:

    "Likewise, Colorado Republicans as a whole didn’t have to lurch out of the mainstream under Patrick Neville and Ken Buck."

    I think that part was unavoidable. Look at their track record. Other than Gardner's win in 2014 (which was courtesy of the moron who thought running Udall's re-election campaign solely on the issue of abortion was a good idea), where have the Republicans gone when they run milk-toast moderates.

    The last time someone who was arguably moderate was elected statewide was Bill Owens in 2002. Since then, they ran a gaggle of quasi- or pseudo-moderates such as Pete Coors, Both Ways Bob, and Walker Stapleton. And what do they have to show for it?

    That's not to say that running the bat shit crazies gets them much further, to wit:  Bob Schaffer, Ken Buck, Dan Maes, Tom Tancredo, and Darryl Glenn. But at least the crazies make the races more interesting….. 

  4. Genghis says:

    So how do y'all think Coreless will get taxpayers to support him financially once he's no longer a U.S. Senator?

  5. Gilpin Guy says:

    Thanks again Pols for the below the surface analysis.  Trump could have coasted to reelection if he had gotten out ahead of the virus.  The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden just won reelection by the biggest margin in the modern era.  Gardner tied his wanger to Trump to keep from getting on Trump’s bad side and facing a rabid primary opponent which made him betray any sense of honorable action. Then he pulled a Udall by focusing all his campaign energy at trying to paint Hickenlooper as a bad guy for pretty minor infractions.  Wrong focus and it did not cause the needle to move at all.  Gardner is going down on the Trumptanic with no lifeboats around. Think Leonardo on a door.

    • unnamed says:

      Then he pulled a Udall by focusing all his campaign energy at trying to paint Hickenlooper as a bad guy for pretty minor infractions.  Wrong focus and it did not cause the needle to move at all. 


      If that's not poetic justice, I don't know what is.

      • Duke Cox says:

        A known serial liar accusing an opponent of lying is always a tough sell. The fact is, Gov. Frackenlooper unashamedly claimed to have consumed hydraulic fracturing fluid. He did not drink REAL fracking fluid. He drank FAKE fracking fluid and persists in that falsehood to this day.

        There is no statute of limitations on bald-faced lies.

  6. MichaelBowman says:

    David Dennison doesn’t appear to have the same powerful feelings for StCormy in the picture above that he had for the Florida crowd last Monday! 

  7. RepealAndReplace says:

    Stay the course, Senator! Some day they will thank you.

  8. RepealAndReplace says:

    Here’s some cheerful news for a Monday morning……

    Looks like those character attacks on Hick have brought Gardner to within 14% of Hick. Here’s hoping Hick remembers that crap when he gets to DC and Minority Leader McConnell is pleading with him to preserve the filibuster.

  9. psyclone says:

    If Colorado Republicans take the easy way out of reckoning their losses in 2020 from Cory Gardner on down, blaming externalities instead of looking inward, they are setting the stage to become a permanent minority.

    I watched the California GOP do exactly this in the early to mid 2000s when I lived there. California went from being purple to deep blue all over the map, and instead of changing their party's message, the CA GOP just lurched ever more harder right, to the point where now they are an abject minority party in what used to be Reagan's stomping grounds. Schwarzenegger was the last gasp of GOP relevance in the state, and that was only because Arnold didn't have to win a GOP primary in order to get the governorship. He'd have lost if he had.

    Since I moved to this state, I have simply marveled at how the Colorado GOP is mirroring the California GOP in their trajectory to irrelevance. It hasn't been instant or immediate, but it does seem inexorable.

    • Duke Cox says:

      Thank you for that insight. It has always been the case that Republicans will take a mile if given an inch, then howl with outrage about "overreach" by the Dems.

      I look forward to the GOP becoming a minority party. I grew to really dislike Republican party leadership when I participated in the 2009 gas and oil wars and subsequent rulemaking. The Greedy Old Patriarchs and the Oily Boyz are most often indistinguishable from each other. Frequently they are the same guy.

      Only my limited vocabulary prevents me from fully describing the enmity and contempt I have developed for that tribe. Loathsome seems the most appropriate adjective I can summon.

      Welcome to Pols.


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