DENVER — Mark Udall emerged from the wilderness after two years of near silence to unleash a harsh attack on Donald Trump in front of outdoors enthusiasts at a downtown hotel.
Speaking to a crowd of roughly 100 at a conference of the Outdoor Industry Association, the former Democratic U.S. Senator who tumbled in the Republican takeover in 2014, said the tradition of GOP leadership on conservation from Teddy Roosevelt to today has sputtered out.
“You might say the candidacy of Donald Trump has hit a wall,” Udall said. “Trump likes walls, so maybe this is poetic justice, but I think it’s a sad and dangerous prospect for the rest of us. There are two very disturbing strains— I dare say deplorable strains— in the political discourse over conservation in today’s election.”
One of them, Udall said, is a rejection of climate change. The other is what he called a radical and violent idea of the federal government as an enemy.
“Theodore Roosevelt must be restless in his grave,” Udall said. “The Republican Party’s nominee Donald Trump is out of step with that great Rooseveltian tradition and out of step with outdoor enthusiasts and those for whom our public lands are more than flyover country.”
Dressed in a casual button-down rolled at the sleeves, Udall peppered his speech with anecdotes about mountain climbing, hiking and kayaking to the crowd of outdoor enthusiasts who might remember him as the leader of Outward Bound before becoming a U.S. Senator from Colorado in 2009.
Udall likened Trump to a “showboater with an ego bigger than the mountain,” and someone a climbing team wouldn’t want leading it because he “believes you can schmooze, insult, and trash talk your way to the summit.”
Since his defeat by Cory Gardner in 2014, Udall has stayed out of political life. After he closed down his Washington, D.C. office, he hiked, completed the Colorado Trail, and rafted the Grand Canyon. When he decided to get into politics, some of his friends thought he might have killed too many brain cells by attempting to climb Mount Everest, he told the crowd. But he didn’t talk much about his bruising defeat two years ago beyond saying he didn’t survive “the red tide in 2014.”
He did not mention this year’s U.S. Senate race in Colorado.
Instead, Udall focused on the presidential race, pointing out that a member of Trump’s veteran coalition was arrested in Nevada for his role in a public lands confrontation involving Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher jailed after a standoff with federal authorities.
“Trump has also attacked the BLM,” Udall said in reference to the federal Bureau of Land Management, and said the Republican hasn’t disavowed a budding land-transfer movement to move federal lands to the states.
“It’s pretty clear that given the choice to stand with our sportsmen or with people like Cliven Bundy, Trump and his ideas would be more at home in the occupation of [Oregon’s] Malheur National Wildlife Refuge than here today,” he said.
“Luckily we do have a choice in this election,” Udall said, turning to what Hillary Clinton would do as president. She is committed to ensuring public lands remain public, he said, and has set a goal to double the size of the outdoor economy within 10 years.
“Hillary is also committed to expanding access to our public lands for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation for some two million acres of public lands that aren’t easily available to the public,” he said, adding that Clinton seeks to establish an American parks trust fund.
“We need a president who is not a climate science denier,” Udall said. “We have that leader in Hillary Clinton.”
Organizers for the event said Clinton’s team recommended Udall to the Outdoor Association as a surrogate and the Trump campaign declined to send a surrogate on his team’s behalf.
Asked by The Colorado Independent if Coloradans would be seeing more of him on the campaign trail, Udall said, “We’ll see.”
Photo by Allen Tian