Just a week ago, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado condemned Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal as a serious matter – but he also made clear that it wouldn’t affect his endorsement of Trump for re-election in 2020. This comes across as the typical Republican response to a scandal that they hope will blow over – though a key difference is that they’re no longer trying to deny the reality of what Donald Trump is accused of.
In Gardner’s case, it’s a bit different. He’s one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in a swing state that’s turning considerably more blue by the day. He’s trying to find the right balance between distancing himself from a dangerously unpopular (and dangerously unstable) incumbent in his own party, while not fully tearing away from Donald Trump because he knows he needs the votes of some people in Trump’s base if he wants to win.
Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, also facing a tough election next year, was given a similar opportunity to denounce Trump’s involvement in the Ukraine scandal during a TV interview on Wednesday, but she had a slightly different approach. Rather than answer if she agreed that Trump had done the wrong thing by having a foreign power investigate his political opponent, she ranted about how Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi jumped into impeachment without knowing the facts.
What’s more unfortunate for McSally here is that she has her own history of violating campaign finance laws that her bizarre deflection may have only drawn further attention to – seeking questionable donations and failing to report donations, and she’s only managed to bring that further into focus.
As more Americans, particularly independent voters, are warming up to impeachment, the steeper the battle Republicans will find themselves facing in the coming election. Gardner and McSally are holding up the last line of defense, which is looking weaker by the day. The position of the weakest Republican incumbents could be very different in a few months.