This month, Americans for Prosperity Action backed Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner in his 2020 re-election push.
AFP is the massive super PAC funded by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch.
They, along with Colorado GOP Chair Ken Buck, are wasting no time initiating what will no doubt be a brutally lengthy campaign season here in Colorado, one spent reshaping Gardner’s public image into that of a “bipartisan” “effective and forward-looking Senator” who “has given us a voice at the table.”
While that happens, though, the story I’m following is about who Cory Gardner has become in the age of Trump. I’m tracking the awkward back-and-forth of his proximity to the president, and I’m concerned about how Gardner’s success or failure to act on the many issues we face will have a direct impact on the welfare of Coloradans.
AFP senior adviser Jesse Mallory uses a Frederick Douglass quote in his recent op-ed in The Colorado Sun: “Gardner embodies the philosophy espoused by the great abolitionist … to unite with anybody to do right.”
But Douglass’ words were truncated in the piece. The full quote is more relevant: “I would unite with anybody to do right, and with nobody to do wrong.”
The latter half of the sentence speaks to just how far out of frame Gardner has meandered, to disastrous effect for the people of our state and country.
First, I’d like to propose that Cory Gardner doesn’t much like President Trump. Late in the 2016 election, Gardner wanted Mike Pence to take over the GOP ticket.
We know this because in October of that year Gardner publicly declared that Trump had flaws “beyond mere moral shortcomings” and “shows a disgust for American character.” He would write in Pence for president on the 2016 ballot, he soberly announced.
Nonetheless, Gardner sallied forth on Trump’s biggest policy priorities, even those entirely out of step with most Coloradans.
Despite having no affordable healthcare replacement in the wings, Gardner voted four times in 2017 to remove coverage from 600,000 Coloradans.
Despite reassuring women to their faces in 2014 TV spots that he wasn’t a threat to reproductive choice, Gardner voted yes on numerous lifetime confirmations of judges who exhibit deeply troubling records on the issue, putting the constitutional protections of millions of Americans at risk.
In the face of alarming immigrant abuse and death in ICE-controlled detention centers, a growing human rights crisis on U.S. soil, Gardner has remained inert. His media statements come off as if muffled behind political easy listening smooth jazz.
And then, in November 2017, Sen. Cory Gardner held the last public forum in which constituents were given advanced notice and invited to attend.
In his prolonged retreat from public accountability lies a realization about who Sen. Gardner has become in the age of Trump.
This is a man who has been hollowed out. This is a man who can’t quite figure out how to exist at a comfortable remove from the frenetic machinations of the Trump GOP.
This is a man who, hounded by both sides of the political aisle, can find no substantively authentic support on either side.
There is simply not enough substance there for people to grasp on to, not enough conviction. There is a man, in a suit, who rises each day and casts votes a certain way.
There are the soundbites, the staged photos posted to #MainStreetWalkingTour Twitter, and mostly, there is the uneasy cadence of a man who repeatedly sidesteps the issues that matter so deeply and directly to Coloradans.
In January, Gardner quietly endorsed Trump for re-election, and then made sure to be in Taiwan rather than joining the president in Colorado Springs this May.
In February, Gardner stayed in Washington, D.C., to hold a series of re-election kickoffs. He has yet to hold a public campaign event in Colorado. It’s going to be a long season of uncertainty before we find out who Gardner really plans to become.
Katie Farnan is a librarian by education, full-time working mom of two, and the lead organizer with the grassroots group Indivisible Front Range Resistance. My twitter handle is @indivisiblefrr.