When we last heard from Sen. Cory Gardner in any detail on Donald Trump, it was a month before the election and Gardner had released a statement calling Trump “a candidate whose flaws are beyond mere moral shortcomings and who shows a disgust for American character and a dignity unbecoming of the Presidency.” Gardner said he wouldn’t vote for such a man and would write in Mike Pence’s name instead.
Those are, uh, pretty tough words, and a lot has happened since. Trump won the election, of course, to nearly everyone’s (presumably even Gardner’s) surprise. Trump is known to hold a grudge (See: Romney, Poor Mitt). Gardner will lead the Republican National Senatorial Committee for 2018, meaning he’ll be charge of getting GOP senators re-elected in the first post-Trump election cycle and also meaning, in all likelihood, he’ll find himself having to defend the Trump presidency and the GOP Senate’s role in its success or failure.
So, like you, I have questions. But since Gardner’s office seems to have a policy of never returning my calls — can’t imagine why — I figure I’ll write the questions down, making it easier on everyone. They can just email me the answers. Or text me. Or use Instagram, or telegram, or send it via the KGB. It’s all good for me.
So, we’ll start with the vote. Did Gardner, in fact, write in Pence’s name? Didn’t he care that a Pence write-in wouldn’t be counted? When did he know Trump was going to win, and did he consider calling Greg Norman to get Trump’s number to congratulate him early?
Where does he stand now on Trump? Assuming nothing has happened to change his mind on Trump’s morality or dignity or Twitter account, what does he think the Electoral College should do on Monday? Write in Pence? Vote for someone/anyone else? Would Cory accept a draft? Or is he now trying to get a seat on the Trump bandwagon?
A Washington insider (well known to Gardner) told me that Gardner’s best near-term hope is for Trump to implode and quickly. Given that Trump often sets the implosion stage, but nearly always to no visible effect, what does Gardner think is his best bet in making Trump forget that Gardner walked out on him at the RNC and dumped him, in a strongly worded statement on Trump’s lack of character, in October? (Advice: If Trump invites Gardner over for frog legs, Cory should insist that the press isn’t invited for a photo-op.)
Some have suggested a good start would be to roll over on Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil CEO and Friend of Putin who is Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of state. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a well-known Russia hawk, Gardner will be among those senators in the spotlight in Tillerson’s confirmation hearing. A Washington Post report suggests that Gardner, as a good GOP soldier, is a sure Tillerson vote. A FiveThirtyEight report says that Gardner could be a key senator in opposing Tillerson. What do you say to those who haven’t closely studied Gardner’s career who expect him to stand up against a sitting president of your own party? Crazy, huh?
Let’s get back to the Russian hacking. (Trump says it may have been a 400-pound guy in his basement. But, if so, do you think the 400-pounder speaks Russian?) The New York Times says Trump was, in the Lenin phrase, Putin’s “useful idiot.” Paul Krugman thinks that’s too limiting — and that those Republicans who didn’t stand up to the obvious hacking and leaks to Wikileaks in real time were the true useful idiots. Looking back, does Gardner think it would have been useful for him to have condemned the hacking in stronger terms and maybe even suggested it was a greater scandal than which email server Clinton used? I’m still trying to remember what Gardner said when Trump (jokingly?) invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails.
In recent days, Trump has been tweeting — lying — that the Obama administration had nothing to say about the Russian hacks until after the election and are now saying it to de-legitimize the election. This is, of course, easily contradicted by the facts. Does Gardner worry that Trump lies so casually so often? Whose responsibility does he think is it to call him out on these lies, particularly Trump’s tweet that millions of Americans had voted illegally? Does Gardner agree with those intelligence agencies who believe the Russians were trying to help Trump get elected? Does he think Trump should address the seriousness of that charge with something beyond a tweet?
Another big issue is the Trump Organization, the Trump kids and conflicts of interest. As Gardner knows, Trump canceled a news conference this week in which he was going to lay out how he would handle his business affairs as president. I’m assuming he’ll come up with a plan around the same time the GOP comes up with a plan to replace Obamacare. What are Gardner’s thoughts here? Does he agree with Trump that presidents can’t, by law, have conflicts of interest? Does he agree with Trump that blind trusts don’t have to be actually blind? Has he done any studying on the impact of the emoluments clause? Can he spell “emoluments” without looking? Does he have any problems with Ivanka Trump sitting in on meetings with heads of state? Or Eric Trump, who will presumably run the business with his brother, interviewing cabinet candidates? And, most importantly, how much would he pay to have a cup of coffee with Ivanka?
Finally, Barack Obama says the United States “will retaliate” against Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Does Gardner think he will? And if he does, what does he think Obama should do? For that matter, what does he think Trump should do? I’d like to know because many people are saying (as Trump would say) they’re worried that Gardner, already in the Trump doghouse, won’t have the nerve to say anything at all.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr