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Cory Gardner and the Toxic Republican Party

This is what "Party Over Country" looks like.
September 5, 2020
Cory Gardner and the Toxic Republican Party
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) speaks to reporters about the Alabama Senate race, during a news conference on Capitol Hill, December 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. At left is Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and at right is Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

1. Cory Gardner

Very quickly: If you haven’t, you should read Charlie’s excellent piece on Trump and Jeffrey Goldberg’s story in the Atlantic.

I don’t have anything to add except for a sincere question for the people defending Trump today by insisting that the entire story is made-up and absolutely not true:

If we proved to your satisfaction that the accounts in Goldberg’s story were true, would you vote for Joe Biden?

That’s what I thought.

Anyway, what I want to talk about is Cory Gardner and the Republican party.

There’s new polling out today which suggests that Gardner isn’t just toast: The toast is on fire, the fire has turned the toast to charred carbon, and the remains of the toast have been shot into the sun and reduced to their component atoms.

Have a look at the numbers.

Gardner is an incumbent senator in a purple state and he’s polling at 39 percent among likely voters.


How is that even possible? Here’s how: He’s getting a 88 percent of Republicans, 0 percent of Democrats—not a typo—and among independents?

54 percent to 25 percent.

As an electoral matter, this represents catastrophic failure for a campaign. There is no coming back from it. There is no turning things around. And this poll was not a one-off.

What’s more, Gardner is running behind Trump in a state that Trump is going to lose.

And yet, Gardner remains almost wholly beholden to Trump.

Why is that?

Gardner doesn’t actually like Trump. He understands who and what Trump is. That’s why he left the 2016 RNC after one day. That’s why he called on Trump to drop out of the race after the Access Hollywood tape. That’s why he wrote in Mike Pence rather than vote for Trump in 2016.

Gardner accommodated himself to Trump once Trump became president, but that’s what most people do to power. And more than that, Gardner isn’t just “most people.” He’s a political animal who had to be on the right side of Trump if he had any chance of a future career in politics.

But that was then. Today it’s clear that Gardner’s political career is over. He’s going to get routed and cast out by Colorado voters. Democrats loathe him; independents are repelled by him; and Republicans see him as a cuck for not supporting Trump from the start.

It’s possible that Gardner is talking himself into believing that he could run for governor down the line, or maybe make another play for the Senate some day. But he’s not stupid. He almost certainly realizes that there is no path forward for him in Colorado politics. The state is changing, demographically and politically, and he’s on the wrong side of everything: He’s not where the main body of voters are and he’s not where the party-base are, either. He’s both too Trump and not QAnon enough.

Instead, Cory Gardner is going to have to make due with raking in the Benjamins in the private sector sinecures reserved for washed-up politicos.

So why is Gardner still all-in for Trump?

In a sense, his impending loss / financial windfall should liberate him to say what he really thinks. And yet he won’t.

Because, as the great Midge Decter once said, “At the end of the day, you have to join the side you’re on.”

You should put that on a pillow because it’s one of the truest things you’ve ever heard. And it explains exactly what the Trump years have revealed about the Republican party.

There are many Republicans who genuinely think Donald Trump is great.

There are some Republicans who have been so repulsed by Trump that they’ve become Democrats.

There are a handful of Republicans who hate Trump and have been willing to oppose him, but have remained nominally within the movement.

And then there is a legion of Republicans who find Trump dangerous and despicable, but support him anyway because he’s a Republican and they believe that all Republicans must be supported, always.

This last group—of which Gardner is a member—see the Republican party as a higher priority than the country itself. When it came time to join the side they were on, the side they were on turned out not to be America’s side, but the GOP’s side.

When a political party sees itself not as a vehicle for reaching certain ends, but as an end in itself, it ceases to be useful a useful tool for society. It becomes more like a toxin.

The reason the current version of the Republican party is so dangerous isn’t just because it was hijacked by a demagogic, aspiring authoritarian. It’s because the party was lead by people such as Cory Gardner.

2. Car Talk

My buddy Adam White has a fantastic piece in the latest issue of the New Atlantis about Matthew Crawford’s new book, Why We Drive:

He introduces the reader to drift racers at the Virginia International Raceway near the North Carolina state line, who in thousand-horsepower cars turn corners nearly backwards, “which has the visually elegant effect of prerotating the car, pointing it in the direction it will be headed as it exits a 180-degree turn.” In the Shenandoah Valley, we meet contestants at the Warren County Fair demolition derby, where “the winning strategy is to use the back of your car to ram the front of others’ cars.” (Once upon a time, I loved the Dubuque County Fair’s version of this.) Out west, Crawford profiles Journee Richardson, one of many competitors in the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts’ (SNORE) 250-mile desert race: “Nobody in the 1980s would have thought it possible that a six-thousand-pound vehicle could go over a hundred miles per hour through big bumps in the desert, but that’s what forty inches of suspension travel and massive, externally cooled shock absorbers have accomplished.”This is all great fun, of course, but it is more than that. In these people, and in their communities, Crawford sees Tocqueville on wheels.

The Nevada event is “democracy in the desert,” for at the drivers’ pre-race meeting, organizers lay down the ground rules, from the federal and state wildlife issues to “the peculiarities of the course, in which there was limited room to pass in many areas, and curves where you really do need to go slow.” Each driver wants to win, no doubt, but all the drivers understand that they must protect themselves and each other. They must even protect the race itself — and thus the community through which the race passes, obeying a speed limit that was “strict” yet enforced solely by the honor system. “At stake was a long tradition of good relations between SNORE and the people of Caliente.” The voluntary community of racers came together, like civic groups and frontier towns, to take responsibility for themselves.

It turns out that desert races, like democracy, are more than just a matter of ambition counteracting ambition. The system presumes a certain measure of self-restraint and virtue, too.

If democratic character is found in the desert, then perhaps that simply reflects the fact that it has been cast into exile by our administered age — we live automatically and are governed bureaucratically. And the automation facilitates the bureaucracy, for as Crawford warns, “automaticity becomes a political mood, no less than an engineering project.”

White (and Crawford) are, as you’d expect, really not into driverless cars:

[A]s Fukuyama explained, the end of history could reflect the successful channeling of humankind’s sometimes combustible energies toward safer ends: “In the future, we risk becoming secure and self-absorbed last men, devoid of thymotic striving for higher goals in our pursuit of private comforts.” Or, as he put it in the original essay on which the book was based,

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.

In hindsight, this sounds like an advertisement for Tesla Autopilot.

Read the whole thing.

3. Friday Steiner

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.