Insights: Colorado's Cory Gardner rides the Trump roller coaster from Yuma to the spotlight


Coloradans in the U.S. House and the Senate seem to have a handle on this Trump thing. And Colorado Politics is no longer the only institution taking note.

And sometimes that means saying nothing at all. Lots of publications have been heaping praise on Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma for his willingness to choose his battles against Trump.

When the president (allegedly) said immigrants from Africa and Haiti came from shithole countries, and America should instead welcome (read: white) immigrants from Norway, instead, Gardner lost his voice.

“I’m not going to get into the who-said-what-said, but what was reported is unacceptable,” Gardner said on “Face the Nation” last Sunday morning, steering the conversation away from Trump’s words to the nation’s policy on immigration.

Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora seems to express what’s on his mind, and he didn’t shy away from Trump’s alleged word for many immigrants’ homeland, or his staff didn’t. First- and second-generation African immigrants populate his east metro Denver district.

His campaign struck back at Trump using the president’s favorite vehicle, with much the same unthinking exuberance, as well.

And, like the president, Team Coffman went too far, according to their boss, presumably Mike.

If that irony was intentionally played, it was brilliant. There are no coincidences in politics.

Good supporters of the president who I talk to don’t know what to say these days about the titular leader of their party, other than they love those tax cuts and Neil Gorsuch is a great Supreme Court justice.

It seems like a long way to November, even though the political calendar turns fast. Two things could happen to take the political narrative far from where it is today, and it could happen fast. If Trump has shown us anything, we seem to get past him mocking war heroes or professing to grab things faster than anyone our country has known.

Republicans are counting on the first thing. Their tax cuts are expected to kick this economy into overdrive. You can bet if this bull market continues to run across Colorado, politicians on the right will remind you of what their party did in D.C.

The other thing that could be happening is whatever is happening with Trump, the Russia investigation, his latest tweet or alienating his activist base.

So it’s Gardner’s job, as chairman of the Senatorial Campaign Committee, to ui these troubled times for fellow Republicans, to win seats and at the very least defend the party’s narrow majority. If Trump loses either chamber, his agenda is dead and his presidency could be in peril.

So it was Gardner’s savvy that led the National Republican Senatorial Committee to pull its support in Alabama for Roy Moore, after the twice-removed state Supreme Court justice was accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers decades ago. In the end, not even a majority of Alabamians stood with Moore. They stood with Cory and rejected Moore on Election Day.

Last week Gardner stood up for Colorado’s constitution — well, the provision voters put in it 2012 to legalize marijuana — after Attorney General Jeff Sessions weakened protections for the legalized pot industry. He vowed to stand in the way of every judicial nominee the President Trump sends in the Senate if he lays a finger on a single legal doobie in Colorado.

The Washington Post told its readers last week that when Gardner agrees with the president when he agrees, but he won’t be bullied by the president or his party to defend an outlandish thing he doesn’t believe in.

The Post noted that columnist George Will once called Gardner a “human sunbeam.”

“He’s a very substantive senator, but he’s also a very politically savvy senator,” former Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams told the Washington Post. “Frankly, he will suffer some backlash from loyal Trump Republicans for doing this, but Cory looks at the bigger picture.”

Donald Trump has been nothing if not a virtual rollercoaster for Gardner, the affable former state legislator from flat and rural Yuma who figuratively stands eye to eye with the billionaire reality TV star from the skyscrapers of the Big Apple.

“Interesting to consider,” Eric Sondermann, the Denver-based independent political analyst and terrific explainer of things.”While I have expressed admiration for folks such as Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, they have marginalized themselves. And are exiting the arena. Gardner evidences a different approach to traversing this minefield, neither Trump apologist or sycophant (way too many of them), nor perpetual bomb-thrower or chronic malcontent.”

Then, mob-style, Eric planted the kiss of death on Gardner’s cheek: “P.S. None of this minimizes the challenge Gardner faces in getting reelected in light-blue but deeply anti Trump Colorado in the Presidential year of 2020.”

But Cory doesn’t stand alone on the Eastern Plains.

When Coffman, the combat soldier and undefeated three-decade politician, ran for re-election in 2016 on the same ticket as Trump, he said in a campaign ad he didn’t care much for Trump and vowed to stand up to him. Coffman won the district by 9 percent, Trump lost it by 9 percent.

It’s easy for operatives to try to pin Trump on Coffman, because they share a Republican agenda, but it’s crazier to think you can convince anyone with access to Google that the gentlemanly Coffman hasn’t been willing and ready to part ways with the roguish  president.

In January when Trump instituted his travel ban on travelers from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries, Coffman told Mark Matthews of the Denver Post, “It’s just an embarrassment.” And in April, Coffman was one of the first Republicans in Congress to call for a special prosecutor to look into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Friends like that, who needs dossier.

Then again, Coffman had Trump’s back in August when he was on the radio and subject talking fire and fury at North Korea. Coffman seemed to think being a little unhinged wasn’t such a bad thing.

“I’m usually not a fan of the president’s — what I call impulse behavior, his emotional outburst on this tweeting, but I think there may be something here, where sometimes it’s good where you have someone in charge who’s unpredictable, as Trump is, in terms of the other side assessing their options and where they can’t necessarily assess what the U.S. response is going to be,” Coffman said.

Make of that what you will during a week politicos are analyzing whether Trump is really a stable genius or crazy like a fox.(Editor’s note: This column was updated from the version in our magazine to reflect reaction — in Gardner’s case, non-reaction — to the president’s comment about certain immigrants.)

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