A still image from Aurora U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman's 'Country First' campaign ad.

Donald Trump may have briefly left Colorado, to the relief of fire marshals throughout the state, but he’s coming back next week. And in any case, he’s still very much around in spirit. And if you’re not disturbed by his presence, you must not be a Republican running in a toss-up district.

Ask Mike Coffman, who made headlines Thursday by publicly dissing Trump, if not exactly disavowing him.

If you haven’t seen Coffman’s new campaign ad, you will. It’s apparently a smallish ad buy, but the fact is Coffman won’t even have to put it on the air. He’s getting Trump-like free media simply by being a Republican making an anti-Trump ad.

Here’s how it begins: Looking oddly off to the side of the camera, Coffman says, “People ask me, ‘What do you think about Trump?’ Honestly, I don’t care for him much.”

He then goes on to say he doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton, either, and that, as a Marine, he’s for America, but not so much for America’s two major-party candidates.

And here’s where he takes another shot at Trump: “I’m a Marine – for me, country comes first. My duty is always to you. So if Donald Trump is the president, I’ll stand up to him. Plain and simple.”

This might lead you to believe that Coffman has decided not to support Trump. That’s what I would have thought, too, if I didn’t know Coffman better.

Fortunately, Brandon Rittiman of 9News got hold of Coffman and asked that very question: Would the congressman “rule out supporting Donald Trump for president?”

And Coffman’s answer: “No.”

As in, no, he might still support Trump, and he’s definitely not supporting Clinton, and there’s a chance he could go Libertarian and vote for Gary Johnson, but he’s not saying he will, because where’s the advantage in that. In other words, it’s the old support-but-not-endorse gambit. Or maybe it’s the old vote-for-but-not-support gambit. Or something like that.

So, what is going on? It’s the same thing that’s going on wherever Republican politicians meet. The party is in full panic mode, and while it would be foolish to write Trump off at this point – we should give the spiking polls at least a couple of weeks to settle down – it might be even more dangerous not to write him off. And there’s the problem.

Clinton’s lead in the avalanche of recent polls presumably reflects both a post-convention bounce and also Trump’s prolonged bully-boy feud with the Muslim-American Gold Star parents. Coffman had called Trump’s dispute with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, “deeply offensive.” It is offensive, of course, but it’s actually worse than that.

This days-long feud reveals, in case anyone had possibly missed it, Trump’s utter lack of self-control – not a good look for someone whose, uh, short fingers would be in reach of the nuclear codes.

The question for Coffman and every other Republican in a tight race is how to separate yourself from Trump without separating yourself entirely from Trump’s supporters. It’s a tricky proposition, the kind that Cory “There Is No Presidential Race” Gardner could pull off, but I’m not sure Coffman has what it takes.

And yet.

Democrats have thrown everything they could at Coffman, who clobbered Andrew Romanoff in 2014. This year, the Democrats are running Morgan Carroll, another potentially strong candidate in a district Barack Obama carried in 2012. The people who are supposed to know these things are calling the 6th CD race a toss-up, although you may want to note that these same people were calling it a toss-up at this point in 2014, too.

But this is different. It’s the Republican candidates who pose the real threat to Coffman. For him to win in November, Coffman will probably have to rely on voters splitting their tickets not just once, but repeatedly, in an era when ticket-splitting is as out of fashion as taxi-hailing.

On the top of the ballot, there’s Trump, of course, who is again facing speculation that he doesn’t really want to be president, which would explain the state of his campaign. Then there are the rumors — which should not necessarily be believed, either — that some prominent Republicans are considering a come-to-Jesus, 2 Corinthians intervention with Trump,

And then there’s Darryl Glenn, the unapologetic Christian constitutional conservative running for the U.S. Senate. But Glenn, a Trump supporter, is so far behind in the polling that Michael Bennet, once considered the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbent, is now the odds-on favorite.

So, what is Coffman to do? He told 9News that he might withhold his endorsement of Trump, but still vote for him. Or he might endorse him and, for all we know, not vote for him. Or he might vote for someone else, although presumably not Jill Stein.

Here’s the actual Coffman quote: “It’s hard for me to see at this point in time that Trump could change to the extent that I would lend my name to his campaign. If (Trump) continues down the path that he continues, I’m not going to support him. I don’t think there’s a question about that.”

If Trump does continue down the path that he continues (don’t blame me, that’s what Coffman said), Coffman will have to do something, like maybe cut another ad. This time he could look directly into the cameras and say, as a Marine, he really, really, really doesn’t care much for Trump and that this time he means it.

Mike Littwin writes for The Colorado Independent (www.coloradoindependent.com).