Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner joined me this morning to survey the 2018 U.S. Senate map after the passage of the massive tax refrom and cut and the repeal of th much hated Obamacrae mandate:
HH: On a great day for the republic, and especially for Republicans in the republic, as they pass a massive tax bill, the first reform in 31 years. I was in the Reagan administration in 1986 when we last did it. I don’t even know if Cory Gardner was alive or paying attention then. Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Congratulations, Senator Gardner. This is a huge win.
CG: Well, thank you, Hugh, and in 1986, I was certainly playing my Atari. That’s for sure.
HH: (laughing) Okay, so now the Republicans get to head into 2018 not just with Neil Gorsuch and 12 appeals court judges, and more will be coming, not just with the VA reform, not just with the Congressional Review Acts, not just with the strikes in Syria, not just with an NDAA, but with a tax cut and tax reform bill. That’s a huge win. How much of a difference does it make as you recruit candidates in this wide open map where Democrats are vulnerable East to West?
CG: It makes a huge difference, because it makes a huge difference for the American people. And in that list of things that you talked about being accomplished this last Congress, this Congress, is the fact that the most unpopular part of the Affordable Care Act has been, will be removed. And that’s the mandatory tax on people who can’t afford unaffordable Obamacare products. And so this, I think, makes people around the country look at Republican accomplishments, realizing that the economy’s growing, they’re going to have a fatter paycheck as a result of this bill that we passed, the President will sign shortly, and we’ve got new judges on courts, we’ve got less regulations interfering with businesses and families. I think people will look back and say this is a very accomplished Congress.
HH: I agree, and they’ve got a national security team with Secretary/General Mattis. You’ve got, of course, Joe Dunford as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. You’ve got General McMaster at the White House, Mike Pompeo at CIA, maybe headed to State. You’ve got just a terrific team in place to guide us through the world abroad. But we need to keep confirming judges, and that means having 50-plus senators. So let’s walk through the map, Senator Gardner, if we could.
CG: You bet.
HH: Florida – Senator Nelson, a long-time serving Democrat incumbent, not even sure if he’s going to run for reelect, yet. Is Rick Scott formally into this race, yet?
CG: Well, he is not formally into the race, yet, but certainly making a lot of indications that he’s interested in the race. And from public polling that we’ve seen, we’ve yet, we’re yet to see a poll that has him down in this race, public polling. I mean, you can see how well he handled the response to the horrible hurricane that Florida suffered through. You can see the popularity of the governor right now in his policies, and the growing economy. So I think what you’ve got in Rick Scott is somebody who right now comes into this race very, very competitive, if not outright ahead of Bill Nelson.
HH: Up in Missouri, I have been talking about Josh Hawley to everyone as being the real deal, not just a Roberts clerk, not just an extraordinary attorney general, but a terrific campaigner as well. Claire McCaskill got an extra six years because she ran against a very badly dented candidate six years ago. We kind of tossed that one away. Not this time. How does Missouri look to you, Cory Gardner?
CG: And this is another instance where you have a state that President Trump won by almost 20 points. And in every single public poll that we have seen, public or private poll, Josh Hawley is leading in Missouri. So here’s a state where it’s not a Democratic state. It’s a state that went overwhelmingly for President Trump, and Josh Hawley, I think, represents the best ideals of the people of Missouri. And the polling reflects that.
HH: Let me go through the quadrant of four states that go from deep red West Virginia, up to very red Ohio, still red Indiana to light red Wisconsin. It seems to me you’ve got great candidates in each of these states, although the Indiana primary has not decided, neither the Wisconsin primary. But we know that you’re probably going to have a great candidate in West Virginia in the attorney general, and in Ohio, it’s likely to be Josh Mandel. How do you feel about those four races, Cory Gardner?
CG: Well, West Virginia is a completely different state than it was five, six years ago when we had this last election. I mean, President Trump won by like 40 points. This is an incredible landslide that the President had in West Virginia. West Virginia is leading the country in terms of a comeback, economically. And if you look at the policies the President has implemented on coal and other regulatory relief that he’s provided, it’s making a big difference in West Virginia. And so there’s going to be a race there that is going to be very tough, because now, we even have a Republican governor in West Virginia. If you look at Indiana, this is a state that has moved to the Republican column under the leadership of Mike Pence, now Vice President, remaining to be very popular in Indiana, somebody who is going to go on to lead, I think, whoever comes out of that primary, in a very positive way. And you know, this is a seat where we know we can win when Republicans know the Republican candidate, and they vote for the Republican. It’s what happened…
HH: Let me talk about the tired, old Sherrod Brown in Ohio.
HH: I come from Trumbull County. It has gone, in 2000, it went for Al Gore by 59%. In 2004, it went for John Kerry by 60%. In 2008 and 2012, it went for President Obama by 61%. But Trumbull County voted for Donald Trump by 55%. And Tim Ryan, who represents that area, knows doggone well that Sherrod Brown’s left-wing socialism just does not sell in Ohio anymore. How do you feel about the Mandel race?
CG: You know, I think that Ohio, Ohio is kind of like the new Texas. And if you look at the presidential performance, Ohio and Texas went for Donald Trump by almost the same margin. I think Ohio went for President Trump by like 8 points, Texas by 9 points. This is a, this is a change in behavior from voters in Ohio, because they’ve rejected sort of the statist policies of the left that have left them jobless and without opportunity to grow. We’ve seen pro-growth economic policies from Republicans benefit the people of Ohio, and they’ve seen sort of heavy-handed regulatory confiscatory economic policies that have hurt job opportunities in Ohio. So this is a very competitive state, and I think it’s one thing to have a good conversation with your member of the Senate, and you like to have a beer with him. It’s a completely other thing to agree with their voting record. And I think that’s what the people of Ohio are about to experience.
HH: Now way up north, Ron Johnson showed Wisconsin what happens when you have a senator in the majority party. He got the changes to the tax bill that he wanted. Meanwhile, Tammy Baldwin voted against it and stayed on the sidelines. And in Minnesota, there are two Senate seats. I don’t think you can beat Klobuchar, but I do believe you could, if you recruit well, get someone to go with whoever replaces the disgraced Al Franken in that body. What do you think about Wisconsin and Minnesota?
CG: You know, Wisconsin, there is no other place that Democrats have spent more money to prop up the incumbent than Wisconsin. Not in Missouri, not in West Virginia, not in Indiana, not in Florida, Wisconsin, and they know, because Scott Walker’s going to be on the ticket. He’s going to be on the ballot, not on the ticket, excuse me. He’ll be on the ballot running for reelection as governor, the governor’s race in Wisconsin. His organization will be out, turning out votes. We have Ron Johnson, who led the way, showing how you can win in Wisconsin again. And you’ve got a couple of candidates in Wisconsin that are going to be very, very good in this primary, and they’re going to prove how they can win in the general. In Minnesota, I think, you know, what you said earlier is very similar in Minnesota. John McCain lost by double digits in Minnesota, Mitt Romney lost by single digits in Minnesota. And Donald Trump barely lost in Minnesota. So there has been this trend moving closer and closer to statewide Republican electeds there, and I think you’ll see that continue in 2018, and finally culminate in victory.
HH: Have you had talk, have you had a chance to talk to either Tim Pawlenty or Erik Paulsen, or both of them, yet, either of whom would make a terrific statewide candidate for the special?
CG: I have not had a chance to personally speak with them. I know others around the state of Wisconsin and, excuse me, around the state of Minnesota are talking to both of them. And I think Minnesotans are going to make the right choice, whoever comes out of their primary. They’re going to get somebody who will be competitive. And I think this is going to be one of our top states.
HH: All right, last two – North Dakota and Montana. In Montana, I’m hoping my friend, Jan Janura, runs. That is a Jon Tester incumbency, again, carried enormously by Donald Trump. Tester is facing a headwind, whoever he’s running against. But North Dakota, I don’t know if you’ve got a candidate, yet. Do you have someone who is going to take on Heidi Heitkamp? Again, it’s amazingly Trump country.
CG: You know, you’ve got an individual state senator up there named Tom Campbell who is running in North Dakota, a very successful farmer. I sell red farm equipment. He uses green farm equipment. I’m okay with that. We’ve gotten over that. But he’s very good. You’ve got a possibility that Kevin Cramer gets into that race. He’s the at-large member for North Dakota in the House of Representatives. He could get in that race. And you’ve got others that may be looking at it, too. But again, public polling shows that somebody like a Kevin Cramer wins that race if he gets into the seat. And in terms of Montana, you know Montana. Montana can be tricky. Steve Daines is the first Republican to hold his seat, Republican senator who got elected in 2014, in 100 years. So this is a tricky state. But Donald Trump won it overwhelmingly. And what we have to do is make sure that our candidate gets out. There’s going to be a primary in Montana, that they get out, they appeal to the sort of libertarian, freedom-oriented spirit of Montana, talk about the values of public land and resources, and responsibility of the outdoors, and I think we can win this seat in a state where Donald Trump, again, won by you know, 30 or so points.
HH: Let’s conclude, Cory Gardner, by talking about judges. This matters a lot to my audience, to Republicans generally, and three Republican judicial nominees have been rejected by the Senate in recent weeks after an unbroken line of success, including on the Appeals Court. Do you expect that the caucus is going to fracture, because that will destroy one of the great reasons to make an argument for having republicans, is the originalist judges?
CG: No, I do not think that this will cause any kind of a fracture in the conference. What I do think it means is we have to make sure that we’re doing our job, the White House is doing their job to continue to send quality, qualified judges to the bench. And nobody has, I think, had a greater impact in recent history on the court than this administration, particularly 12 new Circuit Court nominees. Right now, I think that’s the highest number going back to like World War II or maybe even the time the court was created, so a significant number of nominees, and Neil Gorsuch on the Court. Look, we had the highest number of judicial vacancies at the federal level since 1952. And we have an obligation to make sure that every single one of those seats is filled with guardians of the Constitution.
HH: Cory Gardner, last question. We have a lot of vacant ambassadorial chairs. One of them is Richard Grenell, the nominee to be in Berlin as our ambassador. I cannot believe we do not have an ambassador in Berlin as that government shudders and goes through crisis after crisis. Do you expect Ambassador-designate Grenell to get a vote before you go home before Christmas?
CG: You know, unfortunately, I don’t anticipate a floor vote. It’s possible that there will be some agreements worked out that would allow a slate of ambassadors to be confirmed through a consent kind of agreement. I think Grenell would be a fantastic ambassador to Germany, and a good representative of the people of this country. And it’s something that is important that we approve.
HH: So there will be a slate of people that have to have the Democrats concede because of the lack of time? So you are working, negotiating who is on that slate? Is that it?
CG: That’s right. It’s possible. We don’t know what will happen. Again, it takes all 100 senators to agree to such a slate. But this is what happened in August going into the August work period. And I hope that same kind of slate can be approved. It’s unconscionable what they have done to hold these nominees at bay.
HH: I hope you, you’re on Foreign Affairs. I hope they go mention. Germany is the most important non-nuclear state in the world, and America needs an ambassador there. And so if a Democrat says no, that’s not unanimous consent, go find Chris Coons or one of the reasonable guys and tell them to slap Chris Murphy around a little bit, not literally, of course, but I think it’s Murphy who’s holding him up. Cory Gardner, a pleasure, great to have you here. I appreciate it greatly. Good, happy, Merry Christmas to you, and congratulations on that tax bill.
CG: Hey, thanks, Hugh. Merry Christmas.
End of interview.