Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) ran in 2014 as a reform-minded, inclusive Republican (now an oxymoron). He successfully beat back the “war on women” charge from Democrats. He nevertheless turned out to be a political lemming — yes on endorsing Donald Trump’s candidacy (until the “Access Hollywood” tape); yes on denying Merrick Garland a confirmation vote; yes on President Trump’s extreme and unqualified nominees (only the U.S. trade representative [!] nominee drew a no vote); and yes on Trumpcare, including a one-year ban on Planned Parenthood funding. When he returned home this week, he got an angry reception. The Denver Post reported:
Months of frustration with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and the GOP boiled over Tuesday as the Republican faced his constituents across the Front Range in his first in-person, solo town halls in more than a year.
The GOP strongholds of Greeley and Colorado Springs offered hostile questions about health care and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric toward North Korea. A crowd of about 1,000 in Lakewood was so loud that Gardner’s answers were rarely audible over their roar. . . .
Asked about Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and adviser Sebastian Gorka, Gardner said he wouldn’t tell the president to fire any of his staff — which displeased many. He also defended Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, another Trump pick, by highlighting his trip earlier this month to the Gold King Mine, in southwest Colorado, and the promises he made there.
Gardner’s comments rebutting Trump’s moral equivalence on Charlottesville fell short of denouncing the president. ““We can’t let people think that somebody who believes in the KKK or white supremacy is part of any base. . . . Why we have a 20-year-old neo-Nazi in this country, I don’t know,” he said. One reason would be that the GOP elected a neo-Nazi sympathizer who spews his venom while Gardner and others treat him like just another GOP president.
When the hard questions come, Gardner shows no moral leadership:
“Are you confident that Donald Trump is fit to lead this country? Yes or no?” asked a Jewish man who said he was unnerved by the demonstrations of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.
“The people of this country elected Donald Trump,” Gardner said to an eruption of anger, adding that he does believe Trump is fit for office.
Really, he thinks a man who coddles neo-Nazis is fit to lead a diverse, democratic country? He trusts this president with nuclear weapons?
Gardner is not on the ballot until 2020 so perhaps Colorado voters will forget his spineless behavior and failure, for example, to call for congressional hearings and action on Trump’s potential conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violation, for his failure to put his constituents (especially the most vulnerable) above mindless party loyalty and for going along with Trump’s anti-immigrant and criminal-justice agendas that disproportionately hurt minorities.
In three years, no one will say in his defense, “But Cory Gardner was privately upset so he gets a pass!” or “But Cory Gardner made empty public statements after Charlottesville!” It is because of passive, cowering Republicans such as Gardner that Trump feels confident he can ride out his term. Gardner is the quintessential decent man who refused to interpose himself between an abhorrent leader and his country. Gardner has sacrificed his integrity and betrayed the confidence voters place in him to be an independent-minded voice. And for what? His reputation has suffered, his profile has fallen.
It’s Gardner’s moral absenteeism that reminds all voters how unworthy of office are Trump and his go-along Republicans. Anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats should get ready for 2020 — they can and should have the chance to knock him out of office.