Coronavirus Chronicles: It’s Time for Republican Leaders to Challenge the Crackpots

virus infection 3d illustration
viral infection in green background, 3d illustration

We’re not going to turn over the site to chronicling the bad information and hot takes from conservatives about the coronavirus (we’ll have some new podcasts up this week, for instance), but while the country and our state are wrestling with the unprecedented threat of coronavirus, it does matter how our political leaders respond. While the President’s absolute mishandling of the pandemic from the very beginning certainly isn’t a surprise, you’d think we could expect better from Montana Republicans.

In many cases, you’d be wrong to expect that.

Let’s start with Congressman Gianforte, who seems entirely absent during the crisis. Tomorrow, we’ll let you know how his votes in Congress have undermined public health and pandemic preparation, but today, we’ll start with the basics.

In an interview with NBC Montana, Gianforte downplayed the pandemic, telling reporter Heidi Meili that we didn’t really need to worry. According to Gianforte:

“The expectation is that this will peak out soon and then start to diminish.”

Perhaps that explains why neither he nor Senator Daines pushed back while President Trump was calling the pandemic a “hoax” just two weeks ago.

While Gianforte minimized the crisis, other Montana Republican leaders have gone back to the well of bigotry and conspiracy from which they so often seem to drink.

It’s hard not to look with Representative Theresa Manzella, who is currently running for Senate District 44.  In keeping with her past practice, her response was xenophobia and racism, as the attached image demonstrates.

manzella

While Manzella certainly has a special appreciation for density, someone may want to explain the concept of population density to her before she posts again.

And she was cheering on the decision by Ravalli County not to close bars and restaurants even though that is clearly best practice for containing the virus.

Not to be outdone, Representative Greg DeVries of Jefferson City saw fit to post this funny joke today:

devries

Elisa Delaurenti, the legislative liaison and social media director for the Montana Shooting Sports Association (you know her–she’s the one who called for public executions of public school teachers) has been on a tear the past week, culminating in this post today:

delaurenti

My point here is not to mock those Republicans who are allergic to science unless it comes in the form of someone without credentials talking into a shaky camera for a YouTube video. It’s that conservative social media is overrun with this kind of nonsense, and it’s so dangerous for political leaders to give it credibility.

A poll conducted by Marist College Institute of Public Opinion shows a chilling partisan gap in response to the pandemic:

And a majority of Republicans — 54% — now say the response to the coronavirus is overblown, a significant jump from last month, when about 23% of Republicans held that view.

While there are Republicans gamely trying to spread the news that we can help slow the spread of this virus, it’s time for real leaders in the Republican Party to do what they have been so unwilling to do. It’s time to challenge the conspiracy theorists, junk scientists, and unrepentant bigots who spread misinformation and hate on social media.

They can do more than lead; they can save lives.

It’s time to be bold, Republicans. It’s time to take your party back from the loud, wrong, and dangerous fringe you’ve made your base.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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