He had such potential. And unaffiliated Colorado voters had such hope.
Recent news of the Republican Party cutting funding and minimizing effort for the re-election campaign of Senator Cory Gardner indicates the GOP expects him to lose, and if he does it’s because character is non-negotiable.
Cory Gardner is an astute thinker, engaging campaigner, and capable legislator. At age forty-eight he was a prime example of Generation X politics with independent thinking unbeholden to institutional gatekeeping. Originally a Democrat, Gardner clearly had the background and open mind that is popular in Colorado where unaffiliated voters outnumber both parties. In 2016, Senator Gardner pledged to be a representative to the people of Colorado, and that requires a political independence from party politics he simply doesn’t have.
And he failed the test. He failed to read the political climate. He failed to understand his home state. He failed to represent the people of Colorado, not just the Republican Party, the fourth district, and his hometown of Yuma.
And it really is all about character, not his but that of the man he failed to stand up to like he promised. The Republican Party is hurting, and it’s a result of capitulation to an arrogant blustering egomaniac who is the furthest thing from the party of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Sound moral and ethical character, a sense of decorum, a decent respect for appropriate public behavior, and a foundation of integrity toward the responsibility of governing, these are the qualities that honor the legacy of the Republican Party and the values of conservatism since the time of Eisenhower. To think that the party of Ike and the Gipper is now beholden to a man like Donald Trump is truly gut-wrenching.
And Cory Gardner could have taken a stand. Like Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, the man from Yuma could have been a powerful countermeasure to the consistently embarrassing and often outrageous behavior of Donald Trump. Gardner could have been the blocker that a center-right nation hoped former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was going to be. Alas, a seemingly strong, smart, independent thinker like Paul Ryan is now out of politics, and it seems Cory Gardner will join him soon. And that is a real shame. Because all it took was a little guts, a little integrity, a little moxie, and a little faith that voters in Colorado wouldn’t object to him objecting to the unacceptable words and actions of the man who has tarnished the Grand Old Party and the mantle of conservatism for the past five years.
Gardner would like to have been a popular compassionate conservative like George W. Bush who was known best as “a guy you’d like to have a beer with.” And he may be that kind of person. The problem is his opponent John Hickenlooper is that guy too, and he has been since he was an independent businessman behind the bar at his own brewpub. And he remained that guy as a popular, moderate mayor in liberal Denver and a pro-business governor for the entire state. By contrast, Gardner failed to meet the challenge and the bar of leadership expected by moderate independents and those who are conservative but not Republican. And like most Republican politicians at risk for losing their seats, it’s his capitulation that is the problem.
For the past twenty years on the Colorado political scene, Democrats have done a far better job of playing the moderate and appealing to all Coloradans, as opposed to just their party faithful and primary voters. From Bill Ritter to Ken Salazar to Michael Bennet to John Hickenlooper, they have led with a pragmatism, a statewide vision, and a leadership quality voters can trust. On the Republican side, Aurora mayor Mike Coffman is the GOP’s only elected official who has come close to listening to all voters and adapting to serve his entire community. Coffman was re-elected numerous times amidst a diverse and changing district, though he ultimately lost out to Jason Crow in 2018, likely because of the same capitulation to an increasingly disappointing Republican Party that forgot the values it holds most dearly.
Gardner and the Republican Party were willing to sell their souls for the promise of court appointments and tax cuts, but they failed to realize the cost. If you are willing to sacrifice your values for a political deal, then people will realize you probably never actually held those values in the first place. Cory Gardner had two years to learn from Mike Coffman’s mistake. He had two years to stand up to Trump, to call out the behavior. He had two years to sternly, loudly tell the President his behavior does not represent the values of conservatism, the values of the Republican Party, and the values of the people of Colorado. But he said virtually nothing, and he no longer deserves the seat Coloradans entrusted to him.
Perhaps Yuma has a mayoral election coming up.