I was talking to a friend who works in Republican politics the other day, and he casually mentioned what anyone who is really paying attention already knows: Greg Gianforte has already won the Republican nomination for governor.
The Montana Democratic Party knows it. Pundits know it. And the operatives who run the Montana GOP and its campaigns know it. Gianforte, through the combination of his personal wealth, name recognition, and willingness to buy supporters and attack rivals, has locked up his party’s nomination.
And the other two candidates never really had a chance.
Sure, they’ll be a candidate forum next week in Billings, and we’ll see some ads online and on our televisions between now and the June primary, but the sooner we Democrats realize that the November election will be between one of our candidates and the millionaire from New Jersey, the better.
Some of the reason Gianforte will be the nominee is the failure of the Fox campaign to understand that their candidate is running in 2020, not 2000. They’ve accumulated endorsements from a species more endangered than grizzly bears in Montana, moderate Republicans more interested in good governance than rabid ideology, and well-heeled influencers who could host big money events to jumpstart campaigns, but those voters are not the people who will turn out in June.
The days when Republican nominations were won at country clubs are long since over. Just ask Russ Fagg.
While that used to be the path for a successful bid as a Republican candidate, the ascendance of people like Matt Rosendale and Randy Pinocci reveals a Republican primary electorate that’s drunk on the potent cocktail of Trumpian dishonesty and ignorance. While Fox is making the rounds and collecting endorsements from Republican interest groups, Gianforte is sinking deeper into the abasement necessary for Republican candidates to prove their fealty to the President.
While the Fox campaign has made some half-hearted attempts to appeal to that most base base, shilling for Chik-Fil-A can’t compete with the three years of craven, debased support for President Trump that Congressman Gianforte has endured and brings to the table.
It’s not just the Fox campaign, though. The real Republican machine, the zealots who decry RINOS and run the party, have been in on the fix for Gianforte from the outset. He’s spent years laying the groundwork for this run, funding Montana legislative candidates, white supremacists included, the state Republican Party, and county and local organizations.
He’s got the support of his handpicked Senator, Steve Daines, and while more traditional establishment Republicans may have encouraged him to stay out of the race for governor, the movers and shakers who’ve run Montana campaigns for years leaped to his campaign and have been eager surrogates for his bid from the outset.
Poor Tim Fox and Dr. Al never had a chance against that.
There’s some talk online among Democrats that we should cross party lines in the primary to support Fox, who is widely and correctly seen as a more moderate alternative to Gianforte, but Democrats should reject that notion. We’ve got a competitive primary on our side, one in which all of the candidates deserve the chance to earn our support.
If the Republican machine wants a coronation for Greg Gianforte, let’s let them have it while we enjoy a primary that will be about competing visions for the future of Montana, not who has the deepest pockets or the greatest sway with party insiders.
The die is cast. It might have even been loaded. Let’s focus on the Democratic primary process choosing the candidate most likely to defeat the anointed Republican challenger.
And let’s start right now.