Oh, heck, it’s informal Colorado and we’ve known each other for years, so let’s just make it “Dear Cory.”
This is a message about normality. Or the lack thereof. And about the choice in front of you.
I’m confident you will agree that these are not normal times and that our political system is in crisis.
It is your bad fortune to run for re-election in this context. While the political gods smiled on you in 2014 in letting you secure a Senate seat in a favorable GOP climate against an opponent fighting the off-year headwinds and ill-served by a one-note campaign, 2020 could not provide a more different setting. Colorado has grown only more blue in the intervening years and you now carry the banner (to the extent you choose to do so) for a party led by a president without historic parallel in a state that has never bought into his persona or style or policies.
To be clear, this political dysfunction did not start with Donald Trump. It has been brewing, and yes metastasizing, for at least a few decades. Historians will render the final verdict on its root causes while each party can certainly find plenty of blame to assign to the other side. There are no innocents here.
But it is equally clear that President Trump awakens most every morning singularly determined to throw kerosene on the fire.
A full litany of this president’s abuses and outrages is almost beside the point. And far beyond my word count.
But whether mocking a disabled reporter or disparaging prisoners-of-war or dissing a Gold Star family — or from the White House not so subtly fanning flames of racial hatred or coddling dictators most everywhere or leveraging a foreign country to dig up dirt on a political opponent, I suspect you and I concur this is not normal. Or dutiful. Or right. Or the mark of either stability or genius.
Blind partisans and ultimate loyalists can contort themselves to explain or excuse specific instances. But how does any decent person defend the totality and enormity of such indignity?
Two stipulations here:
First, thinking Coloradans should have no expectation that you vote and conduct yourself as anything other than the rather conservative Republican you have been throughout your career. Those marching on your office in pink hats connoting female anatomy and demanding that you support this Democratic health plan or oppose that conservative judicial nominee or go full-Beto on gun control miss the point. Colorado voters were presented with a stark choice in 2014 and elected you to serve in the Senate. You have nothing to apologize for in voting your long-held convictions.
Second, to your credit, you have distanced yourself from the president on occasion. You have spoken up on trade policy. You have pushed him to be far more wary of North Korea. You co-sponsored “Dream Act” legislation. You stood on principle in refusing to back Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama.
Back in 2015, you even called Trump, “a buffoon.” It’s hard to walk back that one, especially when the years since have only proven the correctness of that rare candor.
All in all, you have tried to navigate the Trump era with a delicate balance, walking the narrowest of tightropes. That may have been the wise approach for some years, or at least the best of a bunch of bad options. But let me submit that it has outlived its usefulness.
This needle can no longer be threaded in a way that will rescue your Senate seat or, far more importantly, serve this historic moment for our nation.
Your extreme reticence over recent months does not become you. Your caution is for the faint-hearted. You cannot sustain this balancing act of weighing every response to every question to be non-offensive to the Trump base and still not wholly discordant to the broader chunk of voters.
Yes, the Republican base is intensely loyal to this president. And goaded by tweets and slurs, intensely unforgiving of anyone who breaks rank. But consider that this base is shrinking as those Republicans who couldn’t stomach the daily affront left the tent. Moreover, recent polling shows some softening of Trump support even among Republican rank-and-file. Perhaps this time, he truly jumped the shark.
Further, just because a base is fiery doesn’t mean it is right. Or that leadership is not required to call for a course correction and even to point out that the emperor is lacking a wardrobe.
These are not normal times, Cory. A year out from the election, you have a choice to make. Do you spend the year trying to stay aloft on the high wire, coherence be damned, and hope to somehow survive against increasing political odds in increasingly difficult political terrain? Or do you take this as an opportunity for liberation; a personal declaration of independence; and a chance to speak your truth and let the chips fall?
As others have noted at times of national crisis, party loyalty can sometimes require too high a toll. What is so curious about Republican loyalty these days is that the object of that allegiance is one of the least reliable people to be found. In Donald Trump’s weird world, loyalty is a one-way street for fools and suckers.
Decades from now, history will likely make little note of who won the 2020 Colorado Senate race. But it will accord abundant praise to those who spoke the truth, even at their political peril, and led the country out of the abyss.
As was the case in Watergate in the person of Sens. Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott, who delivered the hard truth to Richard Nixon, the burden of cleansing and renewal now again falls to Republicans. This can be your moment, Cory. But you must first leave behind the fence and the straddle. There will be a Republican Party after Donald Trump exits. Why not be one of those to hasten that day and define a new era?
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. His column appears every other Wednesday in Colorado Politics. Reach him at EWS@EricSondermann.com; follow him at @EricSondermann