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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.




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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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    • According Scott Dworkin on Twitter Gianforte has been reported to FBI for Russian accounts with Sanctioned companies and his “Fun Fact: We’re filing ethics complaint on Rep-Elect Gianforte-might be 1st Rep to have ethics complaint filed on them before being sworn in”

  • GG could have responded to public opinion,
    divested from Gazprom and Rosneft,
    and garnered more votes.

    GG is a popular fool.

  • You’re making it far too complicated. The Dems nominated somebody who couldn’t win – again.

    That’s it.

        • This is a minor point, Eric, but they don’t send ballots back as soon as they get them. They trickle in right up to election day. Just go to the Sec. of State’s website and you can click on a link that shows, county-by-county, ballots sent out and ballots returned. Facts, Eric, facts.

          • Hang on Pete – the facts are on my side. I’ve been telling everybody how this would turn out for about 100 days, while you swallowed the whole “Quist can win” narrative.
            You REALLY didn’t believe it, did you?

            • There were times I believed Quist would win, Eric. Then there’d be another Gazette hit piece or Gianforte would dump a million or so dollars into the race or there’d be a new slew of ugly, negative TV spots, and I knew it wouldn’t go well.

    • I agree and when added to what happened on the national level …well smoky back rooms ….how do you spell machiavellian it hurts my mind.

  • You, sir, are a superb writer and analyst. There were 2 local (Bozeman) newscasts last night that were appalling from – from all points of production.

    Did you see Chris Hayes’ takedown of “spokesman” Shane Scanlon on “All In” last night? It was beautiful.

  • I attended the meeting in Hamilton where, among other things, Gianforte made the strangling motion toward our local newspaper reporter when one of the attendees said that the media was our worst enemy.
    At that meeting, Gianforte said that God gave us our Constitution and the pandering to the most religious among the attendees could not have been more obvious. The response from the crowd was more often “Amen!” then applause to his speech. He cast himself as the Christian soldier who would bring their brand of Christianity to Washington.
    Then, he threw them all under the bus when he repeatedly assured the Missoulian editorial board that he could set aside his religious beliefs and be the representative for all Montanans.
    He has carried hypocrisy to brand new heights.

  • Doesn’t know shot about Montana. QUIST only won 6 of 56 counties. A real local candidate. QUIST lied about his taxes and rental income. In front of every Editorial Board he could not explain why he was running other than to throw crap at Gianforte. Look at how weak Silver Bow. County (Butte) voting was. Butte. needs jobs. A business man can help not a banjo player.

        • Enough idiots like you, Greg, voted for the libertarian. Had they not, Gianforte would have won by less than 1%. Add to that Gianforte’s violent streak, if we’d known about that sooner, and then lose half the Gazette’s hit pieces, and Quist would have won big time.

          • Not really. Blame demographics. Montana is filling up fast with low wage walmart type workers who love Jesus and trump. Just look at Cascade Co. Used to be the last democratic stronghold in the state. But now the smelter and the RR and all the union jobs have been replaced with southern Jesus jumpers. And ya ain’t going to win them over with gay rights and gun control. Quist couldn’t even win Cascade Co. ferrchrissakes. That is our reality. No amount of pandering to these folk will make a difference. We needed someone who could really explain to them why voting against their own self-interests was a bad idea, someone like a teacher. Instead, we chose Quist.

  • You forgot the 800 lb Dem elephant in the room. Who arranged the Quist nomination? Who made the phone calls, set up the ‘extra’ Central Committees, and got the Quist votes at the Dem convention? Who was behind the curtain?

    • That’s actually a decent question you ask, Eric. Everything I’ve heard… it was Quist himself (and wife Bonni) who did all the background work. It wasn’t Dem. leadership, since most of it comes from labor, and labor liked Amanda. Others in leadership thought Kelly McCarthy was the Dems’ best chance. There was a strong push from rural Dems to get a political outsider who would appeal to rural voters, ergo Quist. I don’t think there was anything nefarious but there was someone helping Quist organize — like hooking up Schweitzer for the early endorsement. I don’t know who was behind this, though.

      • I call it the Magnificent Seven. Seven counties that didn’t have a popcorn fart in votes between them, but four votes apiece in the nominating process. Seven times four equals twenty-eight, enough to throw the nomination to Quist.. Hope these folks are proud of themselves. Damn hard to believe that these nothing counties destroyed our chances. Why? And at whose request? Did they really think that Podunk, Mt should be calling the shots for the entire state? Yes, Jordan and maybe Winnifred are really the centers of Montana’s political heartbeat. Pisses me off. Plainazzed stupid.

  • If, and I say if these ah hoc committees ever have another meeting, I think the question should be asked and included in the autopsy – especially since Greg’s reelection
    Campaign starts in a year.

    • Also, someone pointed out to me that nearly all the delegates were old farts like Quist, never suspecting that most young folks had never hear of him. Great way to capture momentum by walking backwards! Carpe diem, or carpe something!

    • This is one bet I will gladly make with you, Eric. The stars aligned and he lucked out. Gianforte is a 17-month congressman and done. We won’t have Greg to kick around any more. First, he hitched his wagon to Trump, a disaster of a president. And, after assaulting a reporter, the press will be on him like cheese on a tuna melt. One false move, and I’m confident he’ll make plenty, he’ll be as toxic as the Berkeley Pit.

  • Pete calling the Libertarians fools and Repubs idiots. Believing that the two party system works, not thats foolish Pete. All you dems do is whine, lose, and repeat these days

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