While it’s hardly breaking news to see infighting tearing the Republican Party apart, the spectacle of the public spat between the Ryan Zinke campaign and the Montana Republican Party establishment the past few days has been an especially interesting show.
Today, in an effort to respond to Ken Miller’s attack on Zinke, the Zinke campaign released a response that did more to expose the divide in the Republican Party and the opportunism of Senator Zinke than it did to defend his record.[pullquote] Wildly jumping from one position to another is not the mark of a moderate; it’s the mark of an opportunist[/pullquote]
The response, though, was typical Zinke—not reflecting any real support in the Montana Republican Party and glossing over the profound inconsistencies in his record as a legislator and candidate.
Perhaps the oddest part of the Zinke response was that it was authored by his political director, Randy Vogel, rather than someone not paid to defend him. Typically, a campaign has a collection of legislators and other reporters “write” these kind of responses, and the fact that Zinke had to rely on his paid staff speaks volumes about his low popularity in the Republican establishment.
Vogel is an interesting change for another reason: he’s hardly the best person to defend someone against charges of ethical misbehavior. Vogel had a very public charge for poaching during a visit to Montana back in 2010 that demonstrated a somewhat less than sterling ethical character.
The substance of the Vogel letter was equally problematic and demonstrated some real fear in the Zinke campaign that Rosendale will win the primary. After all Rosendale,has the support of far more Montana Republicans than Zinke, who seems to have found most of his support in near his home in Santa Barbara, California and insurance companies located in Florida.
This letter is a remarkable rhetorical exercise in hypocrisy. It’s rare to see a politico so badly decry negative campaigning in the midst of a letter filled with personal attacks and juvenile writing. Of course, it’s a former Rehberg staffer writing it, so it shouldn’t be that surprising.
Once again, the Zinke campaign dissembled on the issue of the Second Amendment. Vogel writes:
Miller/Rosendale attacked Ryan on his support of the Second Amendment. Ryan’s never wavered from his support. After one of his SEAL teams developed the .50 cal sniper rifle, Ryan questioned whether or not it should be sold over the counter in the civilian market.
That simply does not deal with Zinke’s record. Project Vote Smart makes it clear that Zinke has been unusually hostile to gun rights for a Montana politician. In 2008, he received a 42% Lifetime rating from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund.
Next, Vogel moves to the issue of abortion, writing:
Miller/Rosendale won’t tell you that in 2011 Ryan received a 0 (ZERO) rating from NARL. Maybe it’s because he’s pro-life and carried the “Assault on Unborn Victims” Bill that Miller/Rosendale doesn’t want pro life people to know about. What pro-life bill did Rosendale carry? Hmmm?
Once again, that’s an example of the Zinke campaign attempting to redefine candidate Zinke as a conservative in the primary election, despite his effort to brand himself as a moderate back in the Montana Legislature. In 2009, Senator Zinke scored a 65% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana while the rest of his party was closer to 3%. In 2011, Zinke told the Whitefish Pilot that he opposes government intervention to restrict abortion:
He also says government should play no role in personal decisions like abortion. He and his wife, Lola, and their three children live their lives pretty conservatively, he adds, but that doesn’t mean he wants someone at a desk telling him what to believe.
This infighting reveals two important points: the Republican Party, despite its best efforts to depict itself as a big tent, is riven with division and infighting about basic principles and the basic direction of the party.
The second, and more salient point, is that Ryan Zinke will do and say anything to win an election and popularity: he’s a candidate who was pro-choice when it was convenient, pro-life when it was not; pro-gun control when it was convenient, a 2nd Amendment zealot when it was not. Wildly jumping from one position to another is not the mark of a moderate; it’s the mark of an opportunist—a label that describes candidate Zinke better than any other.