That’s the softest word I can find to describe last night’s election results. I’ll leave the descriptive a-holes and f-bombs for another day.
Some say that compared to the twenty-point blowout Donald Trump had over Hillary Clinton last November, Gianforte’s six-point victory over Rob Quist is a sort of triumph. Bullshit. Back in the day when I was working on specific campaigns, I’d be dancing in the streets with a six-point win.
Consider that the night before the election Gianforte throttled, threw to the ground and then punched a reporter. And not “allegedly.” Listen to the tape or read the statements from others in the room. He grabbed the reporter by the throat, body-slammed him and while down, punched him.
After that incident, I’d say a six-point win is a landslide.
So, where should we lay the blame? There’s plenty to go around.
Let’s start with the media. The Gianforte endorsements from three of Montana’s biggest dailies — in Billings, Missoula and Helena — didn’t help. Nor did the non-endorsement in the Bozeman Chronicle. The three dailies walked back their endorsements after the assault. Too little, too late. And nothing yet from the Chronicle on its Opinion Page about the assault.
The thing is, those editorials didn’t change many voter’s minds. There were, perhaps, some sitting-on-the-fence independents who were influenced by the endorsements, but damn few. It was more of just a finger in the eye from the editorial boards, who should have known better. There had been an ongoing pattern of Trump-like disdain for the press from Gianforte: combative responses to a Sally Mauk NPR interview, and then his piling on during a verbal attack aimed at a reporter by an audience member at a Hamilton meeting. But it wasn’t until Gianforte smacked down a reporter in Bozeman that papers pulled their support.
What was really damaging were the weekly Billings Gazette hit pieces. It turns out that reporter Tom Lutey, the author of most of those pieces, has a twenty-year relationship with Greg Gianforte as evidenced by a fawning exchange that was recorded during a Gazette interview with Gianforte and Quist. Who better to feed negative opposition research to than Lutey? To be honest, some of the stories deserved to see the light of day. It was the lack of context in many of the articles that’s most troubling. Financial problems and trouble paying property taxes during the recession? A lien filed by a disgruntled contractor with an ax to grind? A rental that wasn’t designated correctly for tax purposes?
And then, after prying into Quist’s medical records, it was reported that — holy shit! — he may have smoked some pot as a touring musician in the 1970s. I don’t think the piece did a lot of damage. Keep in mind Montana voters consistently pass medical marijuana initiatives by big margins. But it was just one more negative story in a string of bad press. I should mention that new Lee State Bureau reporter Jayme Fraser broke this pseudo story, with the help of a far-right national blog, not Lutey this time. I’ll be looking for more dynamic exposés from her.
What’s really disturbing is they’re comparing apples and oranges here, if they’re doing any comparing at all. So what deserves the most attention, some unfortunate personal financial failings or an anti-science, anti-gay, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-public education, anti-press, anti-health care, anti-social net, Trump-humping “Christian?”
Let’s move on to the selection of Quist as the candidate to represent the Montana Democratic Party in this special congressional election. Would either of the other convention front runners, Amanda Curtis or Kelly McCarthy, have fared better? Hard to say. They had different kinds of baggage. Curtis had a term-and-a-half in the Montana Legislature before the convention where she recorded daily video briefings, often with a passionate, progressive message. I’m sure opposition researchers would have had a field day splicing together radical-sounding negative TV and radio spots. I think McCarthy’s lack of statewide name recognition was his downside; that and an ability to fire up many of the progressive activists that were onboard for Quist and Curtis.
The Quist selection, from what I’ve gleaned, came down to three things. First, Denise Juneau — a smart, young female with a political resume — lost a race for the same seat seven months earlier. Convention delegates (enough of them, anyway) were looking for something new: an outsider, maybe someone in a cowboy hat, who would appeal to rural voters. Second, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s early endorsement of Quist was a huge boost. Finally, Quist was well known as the front man for the Mission Mountain Wood Band. Since many of the delegates were in their late fifties to mid-sixties, they probably boogied down to Quist at one time or another in the ’70s and ’80s.
The question of vetting has come up often. I tried to tackle that here but the short version is there just wasn’t the time or the inclination (although one might think Schweitzer would have asked a few questions before he endorsed Quist).
As for as the campaigns themselves, they were gutter-worthy sleaze. Gianforte went nasty right out of the gate and when Quist’s financial issues came to light, Gianforte doubled down. Quist started his campaign off honorably but once national spots started running, the skank factor ramped up. Quist’s campaign never sank as low as Gianforte’s, though.
An obscene $17 million, at last count, was spent on this race. That’s $45 a vote. No wonder only 54 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. Other potential voters must have been so disgusted by the onslaught of negative advertising they figured if the two major candidates were such scurvy dogs, why cast a vote at all.
But my greatest disappointment is in the Gianforte voters themselves. And it pains me deeply to say this because I love my state, mostly for the people who live here: hard-working, honest, do anything for a neighbor or someone down on their luck, and they generally show respect for others, but that seems to be changing.
Gianforte apologized last night for assaulting the reporter. Some in attendance at the Gianforte victory celebration are an embarrassment to the great state of Montana. From the Washington Post:
“I made a mistake,” the congressman-elect said at his party in Bozeman. “Not in our minds!” yelled a supporter. (Reporter) David Weigel, who was there, writes that some in the crowd laughed.
I could almost forgive these people for voting for Donald J. Trump. But now they’ve seen what kind of person Trump really is as his administration lurches from crises to crises. He fires the FBI director investigating ties with Russia. His budget makes deep cuts in every social service designed for the poor, the sick, the elderly and disabled. His foreign policy is a shambles. He’s loose with intelligence. There are his insulting, adolescent tweets.
And anyone who voted for Gianforte after he beat up a reporter has a broken moral compass.
It should be obvious by now that Gianforte and Trump are not going to “drain the swamp” or “make America great again” (although I thought it was pretty good to begin with). Gianforte/Trump supporters are about to be sorely disappointed.