Mike Littwin: If the Trump ship is taking water, when will Republicans like Cory Gardner jump?
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Let’s imagine that this really is the beginning of the beginning of the end for Donald Trump. It’s in the air. And, yes, we’ve all been wrong about this before, and, to be perfectly honest, we may all be wrong again. But this does feel different.
Now let’s imagine what all those soul-selling Republican enablers in Congress would think/do if Trump actually is in free-fall, Democrats retake the House and maybe even in the Senate in November, Trump’s “rats” keep grabbing for plea deals or immunity and Robert Mueller’s relentless investigations gets ever closer to the top.
OK. Once we’ve gotten that far, now let’s imagine you’re Cory Gardner, and your decision is moving from whether to jump ship to when. He has to wonder if it’s not already too late.
If you remember, Gardner was anti-Trumpist during the GOP presidential primary. When he not surprisingly embraced Trump after the election, he tried to find issues where he could take a few steps away. The Washington Post even (mistakenly) labeled him the model Trump dissenter. Gardner is up for re-election in 2020, the same year Trump is. If Republicans lose in 2018, how does Gardner play it then?
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I’m not saying it will work out this way or that all the talk of “inflection points” is on the money, or even the hush money. I’m saying that Gardner is a smart politician who understands the stakes. For that matter, so does Mike Coffman, who is facing the same issues this year.
One of my favorite “Saturday Night Live” skits is of Nixon’s self-pitying final days in the White House as Nixon (played brilliantly by Dan Aykroyd) wandered drunkenly through the halls, finally stopping at the Abe Lincoln portrait to say, “Abe, you were lucky. They shot you.”
The great Frank Rich has a piece in New York magazine predicting a similar, although not imminent, end for Trump — eventual resignation in disgrace as the Oval Office walls finally close in.
Over at The Atlantic, Eliot A. Cohen compares Trump to Macbeth (if, say, Macbeth had had millions of Twitter followers), writing that “Sooner or later, tyrants are always abandoned by their followers.” But, as he also notes, that abandonment may well come much later than sooner.
In The Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes that Michael Cohen‘s guilty plea — with its charge that the president himself directed Cohen’s hush money payments — is the John Dean cancer-on-the-presidency moment for Trump. He also notes that Dean’s testimony came in June of 1973 and that it wasn’t until a year later that a majority of Americans thought Nixon should be removed from office.
But if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that we will know a lot more come November. If Democrats win the House in the midterm elections, it won’t just be Mueller’s investigation or the fake-news media hounding Trump. It won’t just be a matter of how many “rats” Mueller can turn and whether Don Jr. and/or Jared Kushner are at risk.
If Democrats take the House, committee chairs will be tripping over each other in starting up the Trump investigations. As another ruthless dictator — we can assume Trump would have loved him, too — once said, let a hundred flowers blossom.
To this point, all predictions of Trump doom have been way premature or, to put it another way, utterly wrong. The base is still the base. Trump’s approval rating is still in the low 40s. Fox News is all murderous undocumented immigrants and white South African farmers. The experts give Democrats only a moderate-to-good chance to win the House in November. If Democrats lose, they will be the party in chaos.
But it’s a certainty that if Democrats win bigly in November, the Republican political calculus suddenly changes. Fear of being primaried will now have to compete with the fear of being Trumped in a general election.
Which brings us back to Gardner. I have questions for Gardner. As you may know, neither he nor his office returns my calls, but if either did, I’d ask what he thinks about Trump’s tweet sending “warm regards and respect” to Kim Jong-un, what he thinks about a possible presidential pardon for Paul Manafort, what he thinks about Cohen’s guilty plea implicating the president, what he thinks about Trump’s war with the FBI and the Justice Department, what he thinks about Trump calling cooperating witnesses rats. And that’s just for starters.
I’d also like to ask him whether he’s comfortable being seen walking down the Air Force One staircase, a few respectable steps behind the president, on his way to the lock-her-up West Virginia rally for Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey. Gardner was on hand for the lowest moment of the Trump presidency, in that remarkable hour of the Manafort verdicts and the Cohen plea.
Gardner didn’t say anything in support of Trump, at least not publicly. He didn’t say anything not in support of Trump, either. What must cause Gardner sleepless nights, even as he represents a state that Trump lost by five points, is knowing that eventually he won’t have that choice.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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