A favorite Republican meme, “the war on rural Colorado,” was jokingly stoked by an unlikely source today: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).
For as long as he’s been in politics, Gardner has cultivated his image as a farm boy from the plains. In speeches and ads, he paints himself as a champion of rural Coloradans, fighting against the elite liberals flocking to the state’s cities and mountain towns.
Yet on an informal podcast with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which he chaired from 2016-18), Gardner said he was “a little mad at his ancestors” for settling in Yuma rather than pushing on to the Rockies.
“Look I’m a little mad at my ancestors. I mean, we live out by the Kansas border, you know, three more weeks in a covered wagon and they could’ve been in Aspen. I mean, I don’t know happened.”
The comment was clearly lighthearted, as was the rest of the interview, with the hosts asking him about casual topics ranging from Star Wars movies to Gardner’s impressive Mitch McConnell impression.
That said, Gardner raised the issue of preferring swanky Aspen to humble Yuma. His comment is notable precisely because Republicans have pushed this “war on rural Colorado” frame for years without a trace of humor. Gardner himself has talked about it extensively, from lamenting the divide in a 2017 interview with The Denver Post to attacking “big-city politicians” who “want to leave rural America behind” in his speech to this year’s Western Conservative Summit.
They take it so seriously in fact, that in 2013, when several counties, including Yuma, voted on whether or not to secede from the state of Colorado, Gardner refused to say how he voted on the issue.
Was he joking today? Sure. But thanks to years of relentlessly pushing a message of rural-urban division in his own state, he should be surprised if some of his constituents think this is no laughing matter.