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Littwin: Cory Gardner had no good option politically, so naturally he chose to stick with Trump

Gardner could have said, as he did in 2016, that it was too late to pick a Supreme Court justice. But that would have meant he had to actually be Independent Cory.

The votes are in. In an emailed statement — I guess voting by email is OK — Cory Gardner says he won’t buck Mitch McConnell, whatever the principles involved, and will vote for Donald Trump’s 11th-hour Supreme Court nominee.

And so ends the fiction that Gardner is his own man who follows the president only when the president is doing the right thing. Allow yourself a brief laugh as you try to recall those rare moments over the past four years when Trump actually did do the right thing or anything approximating the right thing. Take Monday night when Trump, as usual ignoring the science, said at a largely mask-free Ohio campaign rally that the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody” under the age of 18.

I mean, if you want to talk about rigged votes — as Trump does all the time — Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham said Monday night that all Republicans on his committee will vote for Trump’s nominee, even though at this point — and let me borrow from Trump here — THERE IS NO NOMINEE!!!! Trump could nominate Elastigirl, and although I don’t know her position on abortion, Republicans would apparently vote for her.

Mike Littwin

And as this confirmation process plays out, vulnerable senators will be on the road as often as possible, and I’m trying to imagine how, as the nation just passed the 200,000 mark for COVID deaths, anything will be done in the way of another COVID relief package for so many desperate Americans. That’s just one more troubling point you’d think senators like Gardner might have wanted to factor in.

And yet, in Gardner’s case, his vote was never in doubt, even though he obviously had no good options politically. He did have a good option if keeping his word was important to him. But, as everyone predicted, shamelessness would easily win the day.

If he bucked McConnell and Trump, many conservative voters in Colorado would abandon him. At the same time, Colorado is an overwhelmingly pro-choice state — with 59%, according to a 2014 Pew Report poll, saying abortion should always or in most cases be legal — and Gardner’s anti-abortion stance is the last thing he wants to talk about. But Trump has already promised that whomever he picks will be prepared to overturn Roe. This vote will likely doom Gardner’s re-election chances if they weren’t already doomed by Trump’s place atop the ticket. The latest Morning Consult poll had Gardner losing to John Hickenlooper, 49-42.

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By the way, it seems that Mark Udall was right long ago to have emphasized the importance of women’s choice in his Senate race with Gardner. Supporting a justice who may help upend Roe v. Wade might well be Gardner’s last significant Senate vote. As The Sun reported Tuesday, Gardner has voted for Trump’s judicial picks — many of them to the extreme right — 98% of the time.

It’s not just abortion rights at risk here. You can add in Obamacare — which is already a major issue in the presidential race — voting rights, LGBTQ rights and a host of rights we haven’t even thought of yet.

And so, yes, Republicans have enough votes — they could afford to lose four, and the only two GOP holdouts are Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins — to make at least one last naked power play, with even Mitt Romney now on board.

And what better way to explain the use of that kind of power than to cite Machiavelli himself, who said a successful ruler should be “prepared to outright lie, twist facts, threaten or get violent. They will also – when the situation demands it – know how to seductively deceive, use charm and honeyed words, bedazzle and distract. And in this way, they conquer the world.”

But what’s left to determine is whether that position — never more clearly stated by Trump, never with stakes any higher  — is recognized by a sufficient number of American voters.

In any case, I assume this move can matter only at the margins, and Trump, already trailing badly in the polls, is now having to defend states like Ohio, Iowa and Georgia. Trump is making the bet that the margins could help win one or more of Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin. I think it’s a bad bet, but ever since the 2016 election, if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s to retain at least a dollop of humility.

The early polls show Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump’s 11th-hour nomination, including at least one poll of swing states. We’ll wait for the higher-end polling to come in.

It’s easy to puzzle out why Gardner — who has desperately tried to sell himself as an independent senator — so easily compromised himself. 

Soon after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, I was talking to someone who knows Gardner quite well, who predicted something like this, and I’m paraphrasing: Gardner knows there is a very good chance he’ll lose the election however he votes. But if he loses, he might as well not alienate Trump and his own party in the process, not to mention possibly jeopardizing his post-Senate career. So, sure, he’ll be a yes vote. I have no doubt about that.

And so it came to be. The only surprise, as I have tweeted, was that Gardner announced so early. This early announcement clearly came after pressure from Trump, who needed his support immediately.

So Gardner, the master of obfuscation, instead played the game according to Trump rules, with this statement: 

“When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent. I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm.”

READ: More columns by Mike Littwin.

In 2016, Gardner had a different idea. Barack Obama had nominated a moderate in Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court as an olive branch to Republicans, who had nothing bad to say about him, except that they wouldn’t sit down with him for interviews, wouldn’t allow a hearing and, most of all, wouldn’t allow a vote. All because — say it along with me — it was an election year.

And as Gardner said, at the time of Antonin Scalia’s death, “I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”

Just for the record, Scalia died in mid-February of 2016, Ginsburg in late September of 2020. You might want to note, too, that Gardner failed to mention that discrepancy.

There is a long line of senators who basically said the same thing in 2016 that Gardner did. Cruz, Rubio and of course Mitch McConnell lead that list. My personal favorite is from Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham, who once said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

Graham is facing an unexpectedly close race in South Carolina, where many Republicans seem to have issues with him. We’ll see how this plays as his words will be used against him in a test of whether hypocrisy still matters.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is all in. We know what that means. He has already basically accused Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s granddaughter of lying when she said her grandmother’s dying wish was to be replaced by the next president. Ginsburg obviously couldn’t dictate who makes that choice. But accusing the beloved justice’s granddaughter of lying even before Ginsburg was laid to rest, well, that’s a move only Trump would think to make.

And one more, in explaining his decision to rush through a lifetime Supreme Court appointment, Trump told Fox News:  “President Obama did not have the Senate. When you have the Senate – when you have the votes – you can, sort of, do what you want.”

You can do what you want. That’s Trump’s entire view of the presidency. And Cory Gardner’s might as well be: Trump can do whatever he wants, and he can count on me to help him whenever I can.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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