Mike Littwin: In search of sage to explain why savvy Cory Gardner endorsed toxic Donald Trump
Fair & Unbalanced
The big news from the U.S. Senate race in Colorado is not that Mike Johnston, a serious candidate, has just announced he’s getting in. We all knew he would get in, and that he would get in early — just as he did when he ran for governor and finished a passable third in the Democratic primary.
Given the level of Donald Trump’s toxicity in Colorado — see the demise of Mike Coffman, who is apparently now running for Aurora mayor — it will be no surprise if half a dozen or more reasonably viable Democrats get in.
But the far bigger news this week is that Cory Gardner is possibly considering getting out. Or if he’s not considering getting out, he’s desperate to try anything to keep his job — even going as far as to endorse Trump nearly two years out from the 2020 election — a move from Mr. Smooth that makes absolutely no sense.
In a stunning interview with the Independent Journal Review, Gardner decided to endorse the pre-Mueller-Report Trump, the same Trump who is 19 points underwater in Colorado, the same Trump who lost to Hillary Clinton by five points in Colorado, the same Trump who was the overwhelming factor in the GOP’s across-the-board, midterm debacle in Colorado.
Gardner is endorsing now, he said, because it’s the “right thing to do for Colorado.” That’s what he said. See if you can follow the logic. By my logic, he’d get better results endorsing Bill Belichick.
“Look, there are things here — look, I’ve made it very clear that where I agree with the president, we will agree or where I disagree, we will disagree,” Gardner said. “But I’m going to fight like hell for Colorado, and we’ve done some good things for Colorado.”
“I know what Kamala Harris and I know what Bernie Sanders will do to Colorado, and that’s why I’ll be supporting the president,” Gardner also said.
So, he’s endorsing Trump when there will be two dozen or more Dems running — not just Bernie and Harris — and included on that list will probably be John Hickenlooper and maybe his good friend Michael Bennet. Bernie-phobia? Come on.
I know Gardner, to coin a phrase, believes the past is a foreign country — from which the words apparently do not translate — but you’ll remember that after the Access Hollywood groping tape, Gardner demanded that Trump drop out of the race. He has said he didn’t vote for Trump, but wrote in Mike Pence’s name instead. And he also said this: “I cannot and will not support someone who brags about degrading and assaulting women.”
In two years, Gardner has apparently gotten over his concern about degrading and assaulting women or maybe, just maybe, something else is at work.
The conventional wisdom — and virtually every other kind — has been that Gardner has to separate himself as much as humanly possible from Trump in order to get re-elected. So, why would he possibly embrace him?
Talking to the wise heads around the state, I’ve heard a number of possibilities. Maybe Gardner has decided not to run in 2020 and hopes this endorsement will help land him a big-money job outside of government. Does this make sense? By 2020, Trump may be many times more toxic than he is today. I’ve heard that Gardner might be worried about being primaried. It’s never too late for a Tancredo comeback, I guess. But let’s be honest, the Gardner endorsement will not hold up under close scrutiny from the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Every thing Gardner has ever said about Trump is a TV ad waiting to happen.
It has to be a primary. What else could it be? But how worried should Gardner really be? A Tancredo-like candidate — if there is such a thing — would never beat Gardner in a primary, even in the days of Trumpworld.
The Democrats are, of course, loving this. Former House speaker Crisanta Duran, who is widely expected to run, has already tweeted about Gardner’s endorsement. Another former House speaker, Andrew Romanoff, is considered a sure bet to run. Mike Johnston is already in. A couple of longer shots have announced.
Who else? I’ve heard Joe Neguse rumors. If he had even one term under his belt, I’d credit them more, but maybe. I’ve heard rumors that Ed Perlmutter may have rediscovered the fire in his belly. OK, I doubt many Democratic voters would hold his strange departure from the governor’s race against him. Still, I’d be a little surprised. Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh is telling people he’s considering running. Sen. Kerry Donovan is reportedly thinking about it. I would expect (hope) that other prominent women are considering a run in a state that has yet to have a female senator or governor.
But my guess is that if John Hickenlooper fails to gain traction in his all-but-certain presidential bid, the Democratic establishment, from Sen. Chuck Schumer down, would be pressuring Hick to get in. I’ve heard that Hickenlooper has told people he has no interest in the Senate and, if the presidential thing doesn’t work out, he might prefer a cabinet post. The truth is, if Hick were to run and to win and the Dems were to regain the Senate, he would have every chance to become a rising star in the party.
Look, I know it’s early to even be thinking seriously about all this stuff. But put the blame on Gardner. It looks like someone has to be in charge of thinking about what the normally savvy Gardner — probably the most vulnerable GOP senator in 2020 — could possibly be thinking. Trump is the worst thing that could happen to Gardner. Of course, he’s also the worst thing that could happen to the rest of us.
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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