opinion

Montana Mess

Republican Candidate Greg Gianforte Takes Trump’s Cue, and Assaults the Press

I worried that someone unstable would do something stupid. I didn’t think it would be Greg Gianforte.

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The alleged vicious attack on reporter Ben Jacobs in Montana on Wednesday night (there were credible witnesses—and candidate Greg Gianforte has been charged with assault) raises several issues.

First, of course, is the hostile work environment today’s journalists must endure. It’s impossible to know if the anti-media milieu fostered by Donald Trump contributed to this alleged attack, but it’s certainly plausible. Ideas and words have consequences, and firing up your base to hate other human beings can set things in motion that might not manifest until later. Possibly, in Montana.

I always worried that some unstable person out there might hear Trump’s words and do something stupid. It never occurred to me that this unstable person would likely be the next congressman from Montana.

There was a time when this sort of behavior—no matter who it was directed toward—would have been deemed unacceptable. Putting aside the anti-media ethos that has been stoked, this behavior is also an example of our coarsening culture. And, I think, it represents a sort of “macho” ethos that permeates certain segments of the GOP.  

The fact that this occurred on the eve of the election is not terribly surprising to me. I’m not saying this to excuse what was a horrific action, but campaigns are stressful—and this is especially true for these special elections in which not-ready-for-prime-time local candidates—who would normally get very little attention—are suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.

From time to time, adults must deal with stressful situations. This happens to all of us—when we deal with our jobs, our spouses, our kids, our lives. In Congress, Greg Gianforte would likely encounter more stressful situations. He has demonstrated that he is not suited to be a member of the United States Congress.

I would love to see Speaker Paul Ryan refuse to seat him, but that doesn’t seem viable. The Constitution says Congress can judge the qualification of its members. But in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives couldn’t refuse to seat Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.—a newly elected congressman who was embroiled in scandal. (Apparently, the “qualifications” Congress gets to decide on have to do with legal qualifications—not moral or temperamental ones.)

Ryan’s hands may be tied. And the sad truth is that Gianforte’s physical attack on a journalist from a British newspaper is as likely to help him electorally as it is to hurt him.

The greatest punishment for Republicans would likely be for Gianforte to win this election.

It’s Trump’s party now.