Cory Gardner

In happier times flanked by family and supporters, then senator-elect Cory Gardner celebrated during the GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center in Denver after he defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. 

My high school football team lost 39 straight games, a state record that stood for a decade, until a bigger loser came along. I've tasted defeat like Donald Trump tastes Diet Cokes, which is often.

My senior year we played Ider, the No. 2 ranked team in the state. Even the name sounded terrifying, I-dur.

Going into the locker room at halftime, behind 45-0, Jim Whisenant, our 150-pound tackle, uncharacteristically did the math. “They could score 100 points tonight,” Whizzy said.

It wound up 52-14, and we celebrated the 14.

I caught a pass and three steps later their linebacker hit me so hard I didn’t want to play football anymore.

My point is there’s a lot you can learn from losing, starting with how much it hurts.

Yet, since Election Day, pain avoidance is what we’ve seen from Mar-A-Lago to the Yuma Dollar General: Nobody likes to admit it when they're ready to quit.

Trump has skipped most of his public White House duties since the election, including a G-20 call with the nation's allies about ending the pandemic, in order to play golf, marking the 18th straight day he had refused to take questions.

Cory Gardner, our soon-to-be former senator, wasn't on the links at Trump National Golf Club that day, but he's playing by the same rules of duck and weave.

I've had a pending request to talk to him since election night for a perspective on losing, where the nation goes from here and what comes next for the Colorado GOP's brightest star. I wanted to ask him if Trump should concede and what he thinks about the campaign's attacks on Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems — Gardner's constituents.

His spokeswoman told me Gardner's office is unwinding, so it would be hard for the staff to line it up right away. I reached out through personal channels. No luck. 

Whenever Gardner is ready to talk, I'm here to listen. Maybe that will be after Trump finally concedes, when it's safe for him to do so.

In December 2015, Gardner called Trump a "buffoon," but he's never dared to call the president that again, possibly not even privately.

On Nov. 22, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein tweeted the names of 21 senators who have groused about Trump privately but held their tongues publicly.

Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Marco Rubio and Chuck Grassley are on the list. Gardner is not.

Dan Pfeiffer, co-host of the "Pod Save America" podcast and a former adviser to President Barack Obama, predicts Trump won't say goodbye, because he's not going anywhere.

Pfeiffer wrote on his blog Monday that it’s not cowardice that drives Republicans to clam up when Trump acts badly. It’s political calculation. The Trump turnout machine runs on passion and grievance, a repudiation of the introspection Republicans wrung from a post-election examination after Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012.

“The Republican approach to the post-election period is a very specific political calculation about what they believe is best for the party — regardless of the impact on the country,” Pfeiffer wrote. “To disabuse the base of the absurd notion that the election was stolen would risk lower turnout in the two Georgia special elections that will determine control of the Senate.

"Once these Senate elections are behind us, the prospect of taking the House in 2022 will once again push Republicans to adopt a proto-Trumpian strategy. And then with the 2024 GOP primary looming, things will get worse.”

If Trump runs again, or threatens to, the GOP stays where it is, because in politics you don't apologize for what works.

Yet, the GOP's growth potential depends on expanding its base, as Insights has told you for years. Look at the House seats Republicans won back this year: every one taken back by a woman or a person of color.

Republicans need to wean themselves off of middle-aged white men. Then again, look who Democrats just elected (alongside the first woman of color on a major party ticket).

On Sunday, former Gov. Bill Owens talked about the narrow hop from victory to defeat.

He wrote on Facebook about his election in 1998, when he became the first Republican governor in the previous 24 years and the only one since. He eked it out by 8,297 votes out of 1.3 million cast against Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler. Four years later, Owens collected nearly 2 out of 3 votes, the largest winning margin in the history of the Colorado governor's race.

"On Election Night I had two speeches prepared — one, in my right shirt pocket (of course) to read in case of a victory and the other in my left pocket in case of defeat," Owens recalled about '98. "It turned out I had the good fortune to give the former but I was fully prepared — had the voters so decided — to give the latter.

"For the good of the country and our democracy President Trump needs to respect the will of the voters, accede to the wishes of the electorate, and help prepare the way for the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden.

"And no matter our own personal political views we should, as Americans, do the same."

In other words, look out for that linebacker, Cory G.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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