Over the weekend, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) who heads the National Republican Senate Committee, joined President Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) in fanning conspiracy theories — baseless and irresponsible theories, that is — about possible vote stealing in Florida.
On Monday, a story ran in the Denver Post under this headline: “Colorado Republicans’ conundrum: Donald Trump and the unaffiliated voters who loathe him; Insiders say Cory Gardner’s re-election prospects are grim unless GOP can develop new message.” The report went on to explain:
Before the election, Colorado Republicans controlled the state Senate, occupied three of the state’s five statewide offices and held five of the state’s nine seats in Congress.
Then nearly 900,000 unaffiliated voters cast their ballots and handed decisive victories to Democrats.
“The barn has been completely cleaned out,” said David Flaherty, a Colorado Republican pollster. “We’re trying to learn what motivated them. But you’re kidding yourself if you say President Trump didn’t have something to do with it.”
As for Gardner, his home state paper reports, “Democrats have not been shy about their next target: U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The Yuma Republican now will be one of only two statewide GOP officeholders, and his political fate is tied to how he and Republicans answer these existential questions . . . In an interview with The Denver Post on Thursday, Gardner didn’t shy away from Trump — in fact, he invited Trump and the entire Colorado congressional delegation to Colorado for a statewide tour.”
Umm. Do you get the sense Gardner’s not paying attention — or is in denial?
Gardner and fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine (where a Democratic governor was elected), Thom Tillis of North Carolina (where Democrats picked up both House and state legislative seats), Joni Ernst of Iowa (where Democrats flipped House seats) and even John Cornyn of Texas (where Beto O’Rourke came within three points of winning and multiple House seats flipped) might want to keep a few things in mind if they want to hang onto their seats. (Arizona Republicans eyeing Sen. Jon Kyl’s seat should pay attention if they want to keep a Senate seat in GOP hands.)
First, don’t go along with, parrot or condone Trump’s anti-democratic, hateful, untrue and destructive comments. In fact, these lawmakers better start objecting, This will be hard for Cornyn, who is his party’s whip in the Senate, but all of those sound bites are going to come back to bite them in 2020 if the country stays on its current trajectory.
Second, they should save the hand-wringing. Agonizing over a vote, only to vote with the president — or to refuse to take action to stop him — is not going to work. Voters are unimpressed if lawmakers have a witty Twitter feed or constantly says they’re “concerned” or “worried” if they do nothing to reach across the aisle to Democrats and take steps to remedy whatever Trump is up to or to rebuke him for his vile comments. (Call this the Sen. Ben Sasse rule.)
Third, they are not the administration’s defense counsel at hearings. They are members of a coequal branch of government charged with oversight. They should start acting like it. That means seriously questioning administration witnesses, agreeing to hold them in contempt if they refuse to provide information and voting against unqualified or radical nominees. In other words, they need to do their jobs.
Finally, foolish excuses (the tax plan won’t expand the debt!) and inept negotiating (if you don’t get what you want, vote against the bill) won’t satisfy voters, either. These feints at independence only make lawmakers look weak.
In sum, there will be a batch of Senate and some House seats for Democrats to flip. Now that women, college-educated, young and suburban voters have woken up and screamed “Enough!” Republicans cling to Trump and curry favor with the White House at their own risk. If they want to win independents’ and moderates’ voters support, they better stop acting like Trump lap dogs.