For a newspaper editorial board to speak with a single, continuous voice through the years is, of course, an affectation. No one from the Denver Post editorial board that endorsed Cory Gardner’s 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate remains at the paper today; its current editorial-page editor, Megan Schrader, was still a reporter at the Colorado Springs Gazette at the time.
But Schrader and her fellow members of the editorial board sought to maintain the illusion when they rescinded its Gardner endorsement yesterday, March 14, writing that “we see now that was a mistake” and “[we] regret giving him our support in a close race against Mark Udall.” That matters, because if the Post really wants to atone for its institutional error, it should offer its readers a full and thorough accounting of how that error was made — and the editorial published Thursday doesn’t come close to doing that.
The Post’s un-endorsement spread like wildfire through local political circles, and since Colorado’s 2020 Senate race is among the most closely watched in the country, the national media has noticed, too. The reversal was prompted, at long last, by Gardner’s refusal to back a congressional measure of disapproval against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to appropriate funds for a border wall.
“Trump’s declaration is an abuse of his power,” the Post wrote. “Put simply this is a constitutional crisis and one of Colorado’s two senators has failed the test.”
The paper’s decision to endorse Gardner in 2014 was already notorious, especially among Colorado Democrats; it was a major coup for the upstart Republican congressman, lending him an aura of moderate credibility in an increasingly Democratic-leaning state. While it’s impossible to know for sure whether the Post’s support made a difference, political science research suggests that major newspaper endorsements can swing election results by between 2 and 5 percentage points. Gardner’s eventual margin over Udall was just 1.9 percent.
Crucially, as control of the Senate — and the all-important power to confirm judicial nominees, including Supreme Court justices — hung in the balance during the 2014 election, the Post’s endorsement became the target of national ridicule. The New Republic called it “baffling.” Salon called it “asinine.” Veteran political writer Charles Pierce called it “the most singularly box-of-rocks dumb rationale I ever read in my life.”
That’s why it’s not enough to say: Cory Gardner isn’t who we thought he was. Plenty of people spent all of 2014 telling voters exactly who Gardner was, exactly why his moderate makeover was fraudulent, and exactly what the consequences of his election could be. And the Post dismissed and belittled them.
“Contrary to Udall’s tedious refrain,” the Post sneered in its endorsement, “Gardner’s election would pose no threat to abortion rights.” Conservatives attacked Udall for his focus on women’s health and reproductive rights, dubbing him “Mark Uterus,” and even some mainstream reporters indulged the smear.
In the ensuing five years, Gardner and his fellow Republicans in the Senate blocked a Democratic president's Supreme Court nominee in an unprecedented act of obstruction. They triumphantly replaced longtime swing vote Anthony Kennedy with conservative hardliner Brett Kavanaugh, and now at least twenty major cases involving reproductive rights are making their way through the judicial system to the Supreme Court, the Washington Post reported last month.
It’s easy to say you made a mistake. It’s harder to reflect on the mistake, offer true accountability for how the mistake was made, and explain what you plan to do differently so that similar mistakes won't be made in the future. The Post was fooled, it says, by a fresh-faced Republican who said many of the right things but ultimately voted in lockstep with a right-wing agenda. What lessons will it apply going forward, to make sure it doesn't get fooled again next time? Again, Schrader and the rest of the paper's current editorial board weren't actually the ones responsible for the 2014 endorsement; but since they've made the decision to take responsibility for it anyway, they should do it right.
They could start by acknowledging a simple truth: The GOP is Trump's party, and anti-Trump Republicans, despite their omnipresence in the media, are a tiny, irrelevant group. In a poll conducted last month, 90 percent of Colorado Republicans say they approved of how Trump has done his job; in page after page of responses collected by Louisville-based Magellan Strategies, they offer enthusiastic praise of the president amid racist screeds about "illegals" and "globalists." There's no great mystery as to why Gardner has closely aligned himself with his party's beloved figurehead as he heads toward the 2020 election. He's a Republican, and Republicans love Trump.
Will the Post's editorial board remember all of this in October 2020, after Gardner has spent the summer rehabbing his moderate image and strategically distancing himself from Trump? Will it cast a more skeptical eye on smooth-talking GOP challengers to Representative Jason Crow or Governor Jared Polis in 2022? Only future editorials and endorsements will prove whether or not the Post learned from its self-admitted mistake. And much of the rest of Thursday's Dear John letter to Gardner, in which the board writes that it was "surprised" by his vote, which it calls "completely inconsistent with every stance he has taken on Trump’s presidency" — suggests it hasn't learned anything at all.