Last night, a day after offering his own xenophobic and dishonest defense of the President’s racist tweets, Steve Daines finally decided he needed to explain himself, but not to Montanans. While Montana news outlets have had to print only prepared quotes from Daines’s Senate office, Daines did take the time to speak to the people who really matter to him: the audience at Fox News.
Even his tweet promoting his appearance gave away the simple fact that Daines wasn’t speaking to Montanans, who live and work in Mountain Standard Time:
Tune in to @foxnewsnight at 11 PM EST as I address the Anti-American, Anti-Semitic movement plaguing our nation.
— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) July 16, 2019
That was a telling error from a Senate office making a lot of them this week. Daines, who refuses to hold town halls and who limits press access when he is in Montana, was speaking to Fox News because that’s where the power and, more importantly, the money, is in Republican politics.
One of the most striking changes for Montana Republicans seeking national office is the way they have transformed their constituencies in the era
It’s easy to understand why Zinke, Rosendale, and Daines are doing it. Using the same techniques that televangelists use to pry dollars from lonely, scared people, they are focusing on extremist positions that just don’t matter much in Montana to raise campaign cash from people who probably have no idea where or what Montana is.
But there are real costs to the people Daines is supposed to represent when his focus is not on being an independent voice for Montana, but a fearmonger for dollars on cable news shilling for the President.
Take the agriculture community. In November 2017, in a bit of dubious reporting, the Billings Gazette reported that JD.com, a massive Chinese conglomerate, had agreed to a massive $300 million dollar deal to buy Montana beef and open a much-needed packing plant here. Daines took center stage in the story, claiming that a meeting he had with the Chinese ambassador was critical to the deal taking place.
And though the story claimed ground would be broken on the packing plant in 2018, nothing has happened.
Why? Because President Trump started an ill-advised trade war with China that is devastating Montana ag producers, and the deal just vanished. Since Trump started his trade war, the situation has become desperate for family farms across the state and nation, with Senator Tester telling an audience at a recent town hall that many farms in Montana are months away from no longer being viable concerns because of crop prices.
The Washington Post notes that even Trump supporters are wondering how they’ll survive:
“People are starting to say, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to survive this,’?” said Martinmaas, who voted for Trump in 2016, but says he’s open to a Democrat like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock this time. “You know, we’re the ones taking the brunt of it in all these negotiations, so they need to be kind of helping us out right now.”
And what is Steve Daines doing during this crisis? Is he calling out the President? Fighting for Montana farmers who are the backbones of countless communities across the state? Holding town halls with them to rally them to push back against policies that threaten to end their livelihoods? No, he’s going on Fox News to pry money out of potential elderly donors with dog-whistle racism and pathetic attacks on first-term members of Congress.
That’s the impact of Daines shifting his constituency from the people of Montana to those who consume right-wing media. He dare not criticize President Trump, lest he lose their support. He dare not, as Montana Republicans, have always done, establish his independence and push back against an administration harming the people of our state.
Hell, Conrad Burns expressed horrifically racist views and he probably only voted in ways I would have wanted a dozen times during his Senate career, but you and I both know that if Burns was in office while a president was deliberately inflicting pain on Montana farmers he would have been fighting—loudly and colorfully—for them.
Not Steve Daines, though.
It’s perhaps one of the most insidious outcomes of the way Fox has transformed Republican politics in this country: instead of 53 Republican Senators and 197 Republican Representatives, we have 250 members (give or take) who represent elitist, coastal, economic interests, not the people of their states and districts. And that’s why, instead of being a voice for Montana communities, Steve Daines has chosen to be a tiny, middle-managing voice for people working against our interests.
Steve Daines has lost touch with Montanans so badly that he no longer even knows what time it is here, and for that, as much as anything, it’s time for him to go.