THE DOWNLOAD: On social media, some Gardner critics impressed by his Charlottesville rhetoric

Author: Erin Prater - August 23, 2017 - Updated: August 24, 2017

White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)White nationalist demonstrators wave a Confederate flag at a demonstration that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia Aug. 12. The same banner sparked a racial incident at a high school football game in Denver last weekend. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Sometimes what one doesn’t say — or tweet — is just as important as what one does.

The old adage has, perhaps, never been as true as it was earlier this month, when politicians responded en masse to the weekend violence between white nationalists and counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va. — and President Trump’s varied responses to it.

Some were quick to condemn hate, bigotry and neo-Nazism, but didn’t directly connect such evils to the tragedy — or to label it “domestic terrorism.”

Others like Trump said “both sides” were to blame for the brutality that resulted in three deaths.

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner — often viewed as protective of the president and his agenda — surprised many Coloradans by quickly becoming one of the most vocal Republican critics of Trump’s response.

“Praying for those hurt & killed today in Charlottesville. This is nothing short of domestic terrorism & should be named as such,” Gardner tweeted that Saturday.

“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” he tweeted later that day.

In an interview the next day with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Gardner took his rhetoric a step further, stating, “This is not a time for vagaries, this isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame — to lay blame on bigotry, to lay blame on white nationalists and on hatred, and that needs to be said.”

Gardner stepped it up yet again the following Tuesday at a series of town halls throughout the state, going so far as to say, “I think it’s about time asses with Nazi flags go back to their hole,” The Denver Post reported.

Gardner’s statements earned him rare praise from critics — including from the Twitter account @CardboardCoryCO, a self-proclaimed “parody account” that chronicles the adventures of a traveling cardboard Gardner “willing to be seen in public with you.”

“Thank you, @SenCoryGardner,” @CardboardCoryCO tweeted in response to an initial tweet from Gardner condemning the “hate being spewed in Virginia.”

“Now confront your party and write bills that will protect and lift up vulnerable communities. #copolitics.”

Cardboard Cory wasn’t the only critic to compliment Gardner, who received an unusual amount of accolades on a Colorado Politics Facebook post about his CNN appearance.

“First time I’ve been proud to call you my senator in quite a while,” commented reader Jan Wellington.

“Oh wow, he’s finally doing something the state can get behind,” Dusty Rose added.

“What do you know! Gardener does have a backbone!” exclaimed Matt Wellmann.

There were neutral and negative comments, to be sure.

There was this more tempered response from Susan Peguero, who presumably isn’t a Gardner supporter: “About time you stood up — finally. You are still a sorry excuse for a representative of the people of Colorado. It will take a whole lot more of this before you can claim to represent us.”

And this slam from frequent commenter Andrei Andronescu: “Oh look, he’s trying to grow a spine. Too small, and too late.”

Ilene Whitehead seemed impressed but doubtful of Gardner’s viability as a candidate next go-around.

“Finally, Gardner speaks his own mind!” she wrote. “Certainly is a Trump puppet who does not represent his constituents, puts party before country and was one of the 13 white men who wrote the last health-care bill.

“2020 won’t be your year, Cory.”

The social media response to Gardner’s words and actions was more positive than Colorado Politics usually observes.

Does this bode well for his chances at re-election?

It’s a bit early to say, but Gardner might consider tweeting a bit more. Since July, his cardboard doppelganger has already tweeted nearly a third as many times as he has in six and a half years.

The Associated Press