I don’t know about the rest of the readers here, but I’m old enough to remember when mainstream Republican candidates for office would have been embarrassed to be seen with horrific bigots and deranged secessionists at public events. Sure, the GOP in Montana has long tolerated cranks who devoted their energy to getting the US out of the UN and people whose private views on race were awful, but the party never seemed to publicly embrace the fringes of their party.
Those days are over, it seems, as the Republican candidates for the Senate seem comfortable being seen with just about anyone, no matter how horrific or dangerous their views.
Last week, the increasingly humorous Republican primary for the Senate took its road show to Missoula for a public forum. Now, almost no one showed up at the event, but what matters is who was chosen to moderate it. A group of candidates for the United States Senate were apparently unfazed to attend an event moderated by Representative Theresa Manzella, a legislator we’ve written extensively about here at the blog. Manzella represents the militia wing of the Republican Party, supporting the Confederacy, racist, anti-government secessionists, and even armed insurrection against the federal government.
In another age, when winning a Republican primary didn’t depend on winning over the 30% of the party that’s embraced this troubling worldview, Senate candidates would have insisted on another moderator, both to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with such fringe views and, perhaps more importantly, to repudiate those views. You know, to act like leaders who were more concerned with the fate of the country than in winning over the worst of the Republican electorate.
That penchant for palling around with extremists continued this week. At precisely the moment he was attending an official state function, the Rosendale campaign tweeted out some photos from an event at the Stillwater Republican Central Committee, two of the photos including shots of Senator David Howard. Howard, who served with Rosendale in the Montana Legislature isn’t just a crackpot; he’s a horrific bigot, the kind of person who alternates between comparing people of color to animals and calling homosexuality a mental illness before arguing that the nation would have been better off if President Obama had been killed as a teenager.
And there’s Matt Rosendale, posting a picture with him on his campaign account.
— Matt Rosendale (@MattForMontana) April 23, 2018
Now, I realize a campaign can’t control who appears at a campaign event, especially at a small county function. But a candidate for the Senate should have either the good sense or the decency not to post photos of themselves grinning next to a State Senator whose views are so abhorrent that the Billings Gazette had to acknowledge the assistance of this blog to condemn them. From the Gazette in 2015:
I find it shocking that he would use his platform to spread so much division when, as an elected leader, he could use that same position to help others. As a guy who writes opinions for a living, the easiest thing in the world is to get a reaction. It’s more difficult to get a thought — or sometimes, a reply. It’s disconcerting that all those nutty things Howard says on Facebook pass mostly unchallenged. His position as an elected leader lends a certain air of credibility to them. That’s the dangerous part.
The only way this dangerous, reactionary movement is going to recede into insignificance is for the press to expose it and Republicans to reject it. When the Senate field allows their campaign event to be moderated by a woman who has cheered an armed uprising against the government, when the race’s frontrunner posts himself grinning alongside a bigot, and when Republicans like Greg Gianforte take money and endorsements from white supremacists, the Republican Party is enabling a dangerous, anti-democratic strain to dig its roots deeper in the party of Lincoln.
Maybe Republican leaders can’t drive out the extremists. Maybe they don’t want to. But they can, at least, stop putting them in the spotlight and giving them credibility.