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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Win of MT House Seat Tainted with Assault Charge

In his victory statement on winning the special election for Montana’s House seat by 6+ points, Republican Greg Gianforte, facing assault charges for allegedly attacking a reporter who’d asked him about the recently released CBO scoring of the GOP’s health-care bill, offered a vaguely-stated apology. As David Weigel and Elise Viebeck report at The Washington Post, Gianforte told his victory rally, “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way,” he told supporters at his rally here…Some in the crowd laughed at the mention of the incident. “I made a mistake,” said Gianforte.” Further, note the authors,

In interviews at Quist’s final rally, at a Missoula microbrewery, voters were skeptical that the attack could change the race. Gianforte entered the contest with high negative ratings and an image as a hard-charging bully who had joked about outnumbering a reporter at a town hall meeting and sued to keep people from fishing on public land near his home.

“Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” said Brent Morrow, 60. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

Gianforte and the allied super PACs had deflected attention from his low approval numbers with ads attacking Quist over unpaid taxes and gaffes about gun rights and military spending. To the extent the assault charge hurt — a GOP-aligned poll found 93 percent of voters aware of it — Republicans thought it denied them another day of attention on Quist.

In his Esquire column, “The Ben Jacobs ‘Body Slam’ Was Not an Isolated Incident,” columnist Charles P. Pierce noted,

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like [Gianforte campaign spokesman] Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

A proper history of Republican thuggery in the 21st century should probably include the notorious “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000, when the GOP flew in goons to intimidate the presidential vote recount in Miami. Wikipedia notes that Roger Stone, who has served as an advisor to both Trump and Nixon, is listed among the Brooks Brothers Riot participants.

As for the after-effects of Gianforte’s win, in his post, “Greg Gianforte’s assault charge puts Republicans in a lose-lose situation in Montana,” CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote:

Now, consider what happens if Gianforte wins. Some time between now and June 7, he will have to appear in court to face the assault charge. And based on the audio provided by Jacobs as well as the eyewitness reports from a Fox News crew, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t get convicted. (Nota bene: I am not a lawyer.)
What do Republicans do then? Every member of leadership will be asked, daily, whether seating Gianforte represents a willingness to look the other way. And for a party already struggling with branding issues, that’s not the sort of story House Republicans need bouncing around Washington. If they don’t seat Gianforte, then what? Can they force him to resign? And would that mean — as I suspect it would — another special election where the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, would almost certainly run and might well start as the front-runner due to the controversy surrounding Gianforte?
Gianforte losing is a bad story for national Republicans. Gianforte winning might well be a worse one.

Today is an especially-sad day for those who are old enough to remember a time when Montana voters repeatedly elected one of the classiest, most dignified and widely-respected political leaders of any era, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.

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