2018 Election Donald Trump Jon Tester Montana Politics US Politics

Trump vs. Tester: how will it play out?

Fortunately, Pres. Trump is so erratic that someone else will be on the receiving end of a scurrilous tweet or rally diatribe by the end of the week, but other Republicans will continue flogging the narrative.

And the narrative is that Sen. Jon Tester released unsubstantiated charges against Trump’s Veteran Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson, damaging Jackson’s reputation (but perhaps more important, bruising Trump’s fragile ego).

Already, there’s an online video purchased by the National Republican Senatorial Committee saying “Jon Tester has to go.” Another by the superPAC America First Action quotes Trump as saying Tester is “disgraceful” and “dishonest” and “has to go.” The PAC spent $344,000 for TV ads, according to MTN’s Mike Dennison. That buys a lot of spots in Montana.

My email inbox yesterday had FIVE messages from Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Troy Downing along these lines:

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester outrageously smeared the reputation of an American hero to satisfy his far-left base. Unlike Jon Tester, I know what it takes to lead with honor and integrity. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester just put his liberal politics first, and America’s veterans last.

Downing is nothing if not a master of hyperbole.

The facts are thus: more than 20 military and retired military personnel brought concerns about Jackson to the Senate’s Veteran Affairs Committee, there was bipartisan support in the committee to release the allegations, and Jackson withdrew from the nomination rather than fight the charges. Then, it was revealed that Vice Pres. Pence’s doctor had warned the White House last fall about Jackson’s medical misconduct.

None of this is keeping Republican campaign committees and superPACs from attacking Tester, and Trump has made threats:

“I want to tell you that Jon Tester — I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state,” Trump said Thursday on Fox & Friends. “Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana… “

Thing is, Trump has so many enemies, it’s hard to keep them straight: Former FBI Director James Comey, Sen. John McCain, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Meryl Streep, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capitol city, Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Oprah Winfrey, the NFL, immigrants, the media in general…

So we’ll see if Trump comes out to Montana in the fall to campaign for the Republican candidate facing Tester. Trump may have too much on his plate to worry about the Montana senate race.

Two other Montana writers offer their take on the Trump/Tester blowup: UM Journalism Associate Professor Lee Banville has a piece in the Missoula Current titled, “Will Trump’s ire force Sen. Tester away from the political center?” and MSU Political Science Associate Professor David C.W. Parker writes in the Washington Post, “Trump’s threats are unlikely to hurt Sen. Jon Tester. In fact, they may help him.”

Most veterans in Montana see Tester as a champion for their cause. From Parker:

Since his election in 2006, Tester has steadily worked on behalf of military veterans. One of his first major legislative accomplishments was a successful floor amendment that increased the mileage reimbursement rates for veterans who traveled for medical care. And that was just the beginning. As Tester gained seniority, he kept scoring wins for veterans: a new V.A. clinic in Billings; funding for a veterans home in Butte, which has long been a priority for southwest Montana; and increased compensation for disabled veterans and their families. Most recently, the president signed into law Tester’s bill extending the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive health care from local providers.

One would think that a big, finger-missing, flat-top coiffed farmer would play better in Montana than a New York real estate developer. Who Republicans pick to run against Tester might be a factor, too. The three front runners are singing Trump’s praises, although Russ Fagg will probably tack to the center after the primary — Troy Downing and Matt Rosendale not so much. If Trump stumbles magnificently, might he take Downing and Rosendale down with him? Then again, what constitutes a magnificent stumble? You’d think that Stormy Daniels would be plenty but so far Trump’s supporters are sticking by him.

The VA controversy will become stale news during the five months leading up to the general election. We’ll see what the next line of attack from Republicans will be. Like the current Trump assault on Tester, I guarantee it won’t be pretty.



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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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