Sen. Cory Gardner and recently re-elected U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman decided to bet against a Trump presidency this election cycle and lost.
Now, the Colorado Republicans have to join dozens of mainstream conservatives nationwide in figuring out how to work with Donald Trump to advance Republican values and policies.
Gardner urged Donald Trump to step down in October after an audio recording of the president-elect talking about grabbing a woman by her genitals was released. Coffman, who was running for re-election in District 6, echoed the Yuma Republican’s comments and said he would not vote for Donald.
“I would have to imagine they didn’t think he would win,” said former Colorado Republican Party chair and political consultant Dick Wadhams. “But I also think it helped Coffman to put this distance between himself and Trump.”
Coffman won back his seat in Washington, D.C. against his challenger, Democrat Morgan Caroll with 52 to 42 percent of the vote. Gardner also appeared to not face immediate negative consequences for going against Trump.
On Wednesday, Politico reported Gardner locked up enough votes to be the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman for the 2018 cycle. The position will make Gardner a key strategist in getting Republicans elected to the Senate during the next midterm election and highlights his role as “something of a specialist in purple states.”
Trump expressed support for burying the hatchet with his party and nation during his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning. Wadhams and others seem to believe the businessman who spent so much of his career and campaign rebuking rivals.
“Donald Trump will be a unifier,”said Robert Blaha, Trump’s Colorado campaign chair. “People would like a strong leader who wants to put Americans first, who wants to secure our borders, who wants to bring jobs back, who wants to do something significant and make America great.”
On Wednesday, Gardner issued a statement saying, “I offer my congratulations tonight to President-Elect Donald Trump. A hard-fought election is over, and I echo the president-elect’s call for us to come together as one united people to move our nation forward.”
Nationwide, other mainstream Republicans from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan to former GOP presidential nominee John McCain have also congratulated Trump after speaking out against him during the campaign.
Coffman didn’t immediately offer a response to Denverite on Trump’s win. During his acceptance speech Tuesday evening in Greenwood Village he said, “Critics declared this race nearly impossible to win…. ‘Republicans are too divided,’ they said.”
“We proved them wrong,” Coffman said.
Coffman doesn’t necessarily have to explicitly come out in support of Trump, said Robert Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College.
“He should probably say nothing and vote with Trump if he can when the time comes,” Loevy said. “You have to remember in my view this election turned around fairly quickly in the last three weeks. Up until that point, it was almost required for someone in a trending blue state like Colorado to repudiate Trump.”
Despite Coffman receiving a few boos and heckles Tuesday, Wadhams said Republicans in Colorado can’t blame the congressman for doing what it takes to hold his seat. Plus, the state went for Hillary Clinton and there was never a strong push for Trump from state conservatives who mostly favored Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
“The fact is Trump is going to be inaugurated as president and the last thing he would want to do is continue any feuds with Republicans in Congress,” Wadhams said. “Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman will feel the same way and get behind Trump.”
What it means to get behind Trump and where he’ll fall on the conservative spectrum remains to be seen.
“I don’t think we have a good feel yet for what kind of president Trump will be other than he’s going to be a very active president,” Wadhams said. “We’ll just have to see what Trump does during the transition, what he lays out during the inauguration and what kind of legislative agenda he comes out with during January.”