Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter. Republicans chose him to represent Montana in the United States House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, Republican candidate for the United States House of Representatives Greg Gianforte assaulted The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after Jacobs asked Gianforte about the new CBO score for the AHCA. Jacobs was sent to the hospital, and Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.
On Thursday, Montana Republicans decided that they still wanted Gianforte to be the sole representative for their state in the House.
Gianforte received a slim majority of the vote, defeating progressive populist Rob Quist by six points.
Usually, a congressional race in Montana wouldn’t be a big deal for national news outlets. But supposedly, this election to replace now-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was a referendum on Donald Trump and a test of the effectiveness of the Trump Resistance in red states.
Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Montana by over 20 points. Then-incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke defeated his 2016 Democratic challenger by over 15 points. A Democrat hasn’t even been elected to the seat since 1994.
But this was supposed to be different. Even before Greg Gianforte assaulted Ben Jacobs, he was already a troubled candidate. A billionaire from San Diego, California, Gianforte embodied the establishment many voters supposedly rejected in the 2016 presidential election. (Gianforte also has ties to white supremacists and opposes basic human rights for marginalized Americans, but those were essentially a non-factor in the race, as white supremacists and bigots are now officially part of the GOP base.)
Rob Quist, on the other hand, despite never having held elected office before, is a lifelong resident of Montana, and ran a left-wing populist campaign similar to that of Bernie Sanders, who campaigned for Quist and won the Democratic primary in Montana with a majority of the vote.
Polling consistently showed Gianforte in the lead, but Quist was not too far behind, often within single digits of Gianforte. Liberal activists across the country volunteered for Quist, with organizations like Our Revolution and The Sister District Project making literally thousands upon thousands of calls for the Sanders-esque candidate. Republicans were so intimidated by the grassroots enthusiasm for Quist that they poured millions into the race, outspending Democrats by a massive margin.
Then, the night before the election, Gianforte did something that should have delivered Quist a landslide victory. The Republican candidate, who had been hostile to the media for quite some time, “body slammed” The Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs after Jacobs tried to question Gianforte about the CBO score for the AHCA, the House Republican’s wildly unpopular healthcare bill.
Other reporters, including a Fox News team, backed up Jacobs’ account.
Audio of the incident was even posted online. With Jacobs in the hospital, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.
But rather than apologize, Gianforte tried to blame the “liberal media” for the assault.
While Democrats slammed Gianforte for assaulting someone, Republicans came to the violent candidate’s defense. Representatives Louie Gohmert of Texas and Trent Franks of Arizona both excused Gianforte’s assault, picking up on the narrative that it was the fault of the “liberal media.” Julie Weindel, news director of NBC affiliate KECI news, outright chose not to report on the assault, saying that The Guardian is “a politically biased publication” and therefore Jacobs deserved to be assaulted.
Unfortunately, over two-thirds of Montana voters had already cast their ballots early. But Montana Republicans still had a choice on Thursday. They could still swing the election. They could solidly reject Gianforte and show that their party does not stand by assaulters.
But they didn’t. They chose to send the assaulter to Washington.
While Gianforte’s victory is disgusting, it really should not be surprising. Montana Republicans and Republicans across the United States overwhelmingly voted to send a self-professed sexual predator to the White House, and to this day overwhelmingly approve of his performance as president. A Republican candidate assaulting a supposedly left-leaning journalist was never going to sway conservative voters. Because Gianforte is not an outlier. He is the Republican Party.
This is not a case of both sides being equally flawed. It was conservatives who made assaulting a reporter into a partisan issue. The assault should have killed Gianforte’s campaign, but conservatives have developed such a hatred for the “liberal media” that they were able to justify literal assault. Let that sink in. They didn’t try to deny Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs; they tried to defend it. So as the left debates the morality of punching neo-Nazis, the right is literally embracing assaulters and sending them to our nation’s capitol to represent the citizens of the United States of America.
Yes, Rob Quist did far better than anyone would have expected a few months ago, and that should give Democrats hope for the 2018 midterms. But he still lost, and an assaulter was still elected to the United State Congress.
There is no ambiguity here. No moral greys. In their final chance to show what they truly believe in, Montana Republicans supported a bigoted billionaire conservative who assaulted someone over a progressive populist who did not assault anyone. That is terrifying. But that’s the Republican Party.
Jordan is the Head Writer at Millennial Politics. She is also an activist, cinephile, and proud queer woman of color.