While it certainly borders on cliche to invoke a boxing metaphor when one is discussing violent offender Greg Gianforte, it seems appropriate when asking whether Attorney General Tim Fox will finally pull his gloves off and take the fight to the Congressman in their primary race.
By most accounts, Fox trails Gianforte by 20+ points in their race, which is why feeble attacks like the one his campaign posted today aren’t likely to land. While I appreciate anyone calling out Gianforte for his refusal to meet with the people of Montana, it’s not as if noting that the Congressman who has not held a single open town hall in his tenure in Congress has refused to debate for 39 days will do any real damage.
To have a chance in this race, Fox needs to start landing some punches, and it’s not as if Gianforte doesn’t have some vulnerabilities that could be exploited in a Republican primary.
Fox is almost on the right track with his criticism that Gianforte won’t debate, but that’s small potatoes given Gianforte’s refusal to meet with constituents in open town halls. An effective attack wouldn’t focus on debate attendance, given their minor impact on the electorate, but his refusal to meet with any audience that might disagree with him. Were I running the Fox campaign, I’d cross the state in a series of town halls open to all and challenge the notoriously prickly and thin-skinned Gianforte to do the same.
While Gianforte’s assault on a reporter probably endeared him to Republican voters, it’s hard to believe that an attack ad pointing out that Gianforte lied to law enforcement, claiming, despite witness testimony, that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs initiated the conflict. An attack on Gianforte on this front might land exceptionally well from Fox as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Fox could also borrow from the Steve Bullock ’16 playbook and hit Gianforte on public access to Montana waterways, given Gianforte’s decision to put up no trespassing signs limiting open access. This attack would resonate even more powerfully now that Gianforte has chosen a running mate who is even more hostile to public access than he is. It would be an effective line of attack for Fox because it’s true.
Fox could also attack Gianforte for his failure to achieve conservative goals while in D.C. While Fox has pointed to conservative scorecards to suggest Gianforte isn’t a true conservative, he could hit him from both sides, arguing from the right that Gianforte has failed to rein in federal spending or end the Affordable Care Act and from the right that he has failed to protect Montana farmers from Trump’s trade war. All, it seems, Gianforte has really done in Washington, is to give himself a fat tax cut.
No matter the approach he decides to take, it’s clear that Fox needs to attack Gianforte if he hopes to close the gap in this race, and feeble faints about debate attendance aren’t going to do the trick. If Fox doesn’t take the fight to Gianforte–and soon–it will confirm what I have long suspected about him, that he just doesn’t have the stomach for the kind of race this has proven to be.
There’s time for Tim Fox to turn this into a competitive race, but he’s not going to beat Greg Gianforte with platitudes or appeals based on his good nature. If Tim Fox doesn’t want his political career to end in a few months, it’s time to go on the attack and give Greg Gianforte what he deserves.