So now we know the answer to that oft-posed question: What if they held a Cory Gardner town hall and everyone but Cory Gardner showed?
OK, it wasn’t exactly headline news that Gardner ducked the packed Byers Middle School event. He had ducked a similar one in Fort Collins the other night, and his office had said he wouldn’t be there. And let’s be honest, Gardner must be the least likely politician in America to voluntarily show up for a sure-to-be-confrontational night on the town.
That was the plan. Gardner would be invited. He wouldn’t show. The questions would be asked anyway.
Only a Cardboard Cutout Cory, all smiles, would be there to refuse to answer the questions, which, by the way, turned out to be almost uniformly well researched and on point.
So, he’d be embarrassed, and anti-Trumpists would take one more step toward showing that the stakes have changed and that, in part because of their protests, Obamacare would become suddenly popular.
This was Trump-era political theater, harkening back to old-school guerrilla theater. You’ll see more of this (and, just guessing, even less of Gardner) as TrumpWorld continues to be all a-wobble.
But if the point of the empty-chair town hall was to embarrass no-show Gardner, I’m guessing it was a failure. This is no fault of the organizers or of the questions asked or of empty-chair-pioneer Clint Eastwood. The organizers ran a very interesting show, which included a shoutout to journalists, otherwise known as enemies of the people. The crowd went nuts. Who could ask for more than that?
The thing about Gardner — and what makes him the politician that he is — is that he can’t be embarrassed. He’s the master of blush-free politics.
If you can trap Gardner and get him to take a tough question, he will dodge with impunity, as he did in the infamous there-is-no-federal-personhood-bill Eli Stokols interview. Or as he did Friday with Joe St. George, of Fox 31 Denver. St. George asked him four times whether he would hold a town hall as protesters were demanding. And four times Gardner refused to answer the question. It was vintage Cory — all obfuscation, all the time.
We can take pride in the non-alternative fact that the whole GOP duck-and-cover-town-hall phenomenon basically began in Colorado. It was Mike Coffman, you’ll recall, who was caught on video sneaking out of a meeting with constituents, sounding a very un-Marine-like retreat. The 9News video went viral, and nothing has been the same since.
Most Republicans, including Coffman, took the lesson to heart and simply stopped doing town halls, replacing them with what they call tele-town halls, which are working out about as well as repealing and replacing Obamacare. Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas showed how badly it’s going. He said he wasn’t holding town halls because of dangerous protesters, citing the shooting of Gabby Giffords at her 2011 “Congress on Your Corner” meeting.
Giffords, a Democrat who didn’t appreciate Gohmert’s sympathy, hit back hard, saying that town-hall dodgers should show some “courage” while noting that “I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public.”
But Gardner is no Gohmert. And he’s not even a Ken Buck, who did show some courage this week by hosting an invite-only, quasi-town hall in Castle Pines – and not kicking out the Colorado Independent reporter who showed up to cover it.
Meanwhile, Gardner has spent his week in Colorado pretending to meet the people and sending out tweets and news releases about his meetings, headlined like this one: Gardner Meets Coloradans Along the Front Range. He did meet Coloradans, select Coloradans, like the Colorado Space Coaltion and MillersCoors employees and a friendly crowd at an agriculture forum. You get the idea. No questions about, say, Betsy DeVos or Russian interference in the 2016 election or an EPA secretary who doesn’t believe in climate change or, well, the list goes on. And on. And on.
In Gardner’s defense — well, not really, but sort of — he’s in a fix. And the only way to make things right would be to go completely honest. In other words, he has no way out.
You’ll remember that Gardner had slammed Trump during the primary season while serving as a Marco Rubio surrogate. Then there was the twitter war over the GOP caucuses. And, finally, during the general election, there was the, uh, groping video which so offended Gardner — and the pollsters — that Gardner said Trump should step aside and that, if he didn’t, he would write in Mike Pence.
This was a rare piece of Gardner boldness, and I think we know the lesson he learned — right after going with the GOP-sanctioned attack that protesters were being paid. Which was to make as few stands as possible.
Since Trump has been elected, Gardner has voted 100 percent with him. Of course, so have 47 other Republicans. He has criticized Trump on relations with Russia, but not very loudly and not so you’d really notice. And he did say that the immigration ban was overbroad and needed to be fixed. What he hasn’t said, of course, is that Trump lies constantly, that he’s a bully and a demagogue, that Steve Bannon is too dangerous to be anywhere near the White House, that the press isn’t, in fact, an enemy of the people.
I don’t think Gardner is worried so much about what Trump thinks. It’s a little late for that. We know Trump is the unforgiving type and that even begging wouldn’t help Gardner now.
What must worry Gardner more — much, much more — are all the pro-Trumpist Republicans in Colorado. Gardner can’t afford to lose them. At the same time, he can’t afford to be too pro-Trump in a state Trump has already lost. And Gardner’s next race is in 2020 when he’ll be facing angry Democrats and possibly disappointed Republicans in a presidential election year that, as of now, would feature Trump on the ticket.
If you like political theater, and I know I do, this is just the first act.
Photo credit: Kelsey Ray