When Republican Matt Rosendale, candidate for the United States Senate, announced he would skip a debate on June 17, it surprised no one who has watched the Montana Republican party avoid any public appearances for years. The current Republican senator, Steve Daines, made this a hallmark of his run for office and he skated in with little question or debate about who he exactly was. As he cuts deals with massive corporations and their billionaire owners to pay for his and other’s endless promotional ads, Daines has learned one of the easiest ways to getting elected in Montana is to do relatively little other than run on appearances. Greg Gianforte took this lesson to heart and if were not for a tussle with a reporter last summer he would have skated into office with little public attention. While there is certainly a shadow world that many politicians and operatives prefer to operate, these Republican candidates have operated in complete darkness. It used to be that the press provided some sunlight.
So it certainly no surprise that Rosendale plans to run using that proven playbook. Dark money groups and his own largesse will finance a massive purchase of airtime. Political insiders have told me the local networks are booked through election day. That was a month ago.
Rosendale agreed to this debate several weeks ago and surely he knew he had a good chance of winning and thus having to show up. Any competent campaign would have realized this fell on Father’s Day. Personally, I think any child seeing their father debate a sitting senator elected twice in a supposed Red State would be something to be proud of. Rosendale, like so many Republicans who seem to run counter to this belief, has decided to use “family values” to bolster his campaign as it makes its first major error days after his primary win.
So here is a chance for the Montana Broadcasters to show a contrast between candidates. One showed up, the other did not. Anyone who has covered Montana politics the past several years would know the lack of public questioning and scrutiny of a candidate does damage to the electorate’s ability to understand who they vote for. Personally, I would love for their to be every radio broadcasters’ nightmare of dead air for a minute whenever Rosendale gets a question he could have answered. He gets his time, he chose to avoid it. He should not be allowed to hide.
Our current president practices something called “dominance politics.” He looms large like a bully over anyone who dare stands in his way and expects them to cower to his enormity. Hopefully people remember who stood behind the curtain in Oz. Rosendale expects the Montana media to follow this vicious cycle by either cancelling the debate or changing its format because he wants to be selfish. The broadcasters should not do either of these things. The media could finally note that Rosendale has chosen to do as most of the “Tier B” candidates did during the last election, do not say anything. It could note this is how most of the federal candidates in Montana got elected, do not say anything. One candidate will be there to talk, as he has for last two terms, while the other will be at home making fundraising calls with a short break for a photo op in between. Count on it.
Sure, no one will watch the debates. Well, relatively few and those who do are all “insiders” and “Helena mafia.” But the story and the framework is what matters. Montanans may not watch the debate but they are watching the contours of how this race is run. What they learned today is one candidate threw down his toys and went home and somehow still won the debate by having it changed. That’s the lesson voters will ingest: Rosendale won. The Montana media could allow it happen. The reporters, editors, and producers who are supposed to inform us should not aid and abet a takeover of democracy. There is a reason we have a first amendment that protects the freedom of the press. Again, the freedom of the press.