How Vulnerable is Jon Tester to 2018 Loss? Answer: Very

How vulnerable is Senator Jon Tester in today’s political climate?

That question currently radiates throughout the Montana political scene as we gear up for yet another “nationally important” statewide race here in Big Sky Country.

Montana’s Flat-topped Democratic senior senator has so far managed to defy the odds makers in both of his previous Senate runs. In 2006, he upset 3-term incumbent Conrad Burns to gain the seat. In 2012, he fended off a strong challenge from 6-term U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg to retain the seat, despite having to share the top of the Democratic ticket with Barack Obama.

But what is the outlook for 2018? The July poll from Morning Consult on the popularity of each U.S. Senator provides some interesting early insight as we head into 2018. In the July poll, Tester polled with an approval rating of 50 percent and a disapproval rating of 39 percent amongst Montana voters. Those might sound like good numbers until you place them in context of the approval ratings for other senators and then compare them to Morning Consult’s April numbers.

Despite voter approval ratings that hover somewhere in the neighborhood of rat poison for Congress as a whole, voters typically approve of their own senators and representatives. Tester’s disapproval rating of 39 percent is the 4th highest in the Senate. Tester’s counterpart, Republican Steve Daines, received a 53 percent approval rating and a 30 percent disapproval rating in the poll.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the media would have us believe that Republicans are under siege nationwide. The narrative says that Donald Trump, in general, and the healthcare debate, in particular, are dragging down the Republican Party and an anti-GOP backlash is brewing amongst voters.

Maybe that is happening in other places, but what does the data say about Montana? If we compare the July poll to Morning Consult’s April poll, we find that Tester’s popularity has seen a 14 point negative swing in his popularity. In April, Tester was at 57 approve, 32 disapprove. After 7 months of dogged opposition to Trump and the GOP agenda, he finds himself significantly less popular. Daines has also seen his popularity slip, but by a far less dramatic 4 point swing, from 55 approve/28 disapprove to 53/30.

All of this despite the fact that Daines has been the senator under constant criticism and attack from the media, Democratic party, special interest groups, and liberal activists since January 20th. Despite the noise, it’s Tester who voters appear to be moving away from.

Clearly, the “anti-Trump backlash” that is supposed to be materializing against the Republican Party is not materializing in Montana and that is bad news for Tester. We saw some of this in May when Greg Gianforte, an unbelievably flawed candidate, was able to win the special election for Montana’s House seat by a comfortable margin.

If Tester finds himself in a battle against a statewide elected Republican candidate like Auditor Matt Rosendale next year, with the general conservative mood of the state in a mid-term election year that usually favors Republicans, Tester is very beatable.

Jon Tester Admits He Has No Idea How To Fix Healthcare

A recent Vox interview profiled Democrat lawmaker’s plans, or lack of them, to fix our broken healthcare system. Answers ranged from borrowed Republican talking points about high deductible plans to “doing something” to even outright denial that Obamacare has failed. But for Montana voters, the big takeaway was Jon Tester’s not-so-suprising admission that he doesn’t have any ideas of how to “fix” Obamacare, even though he’s been using the “fix obamacare” spin to jab political opponents.

Here’s the full exchange:

“Jon Tester

There’s about 2 million people in the exchange … who aren’t so rich that they don’t care and don’t get paid the subsidies and the deductibles are too high.

If we focus on that group, and get some doctors and some hospital administrators and some patient groups and some good-thinking senators, we can come up with some solutions.

Jeff Stein

What would those policies be?

Jon Tester

I don’t know yet. But the truth is, we fixed it so we’re the only country in the world with a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage. It’s apples and doughnuts, but the truth is we can do that if we get the people in the room, brainstorm some ideas, and walk in there with an open mind.”

Yet, at the same time Tester has made the press rounds recently calling on his colleagues to “work together and fix what is wrong with the ACA”.

What gives? This is the same guy who recently penned an Op Ed in the Bozeman Chronicle about the healthcare debate saying “throw in the towel on partisan bickering, and start fighting for what really matters.” But the only real position Tester has been “fighting for” has been “let’s get together and talk”. This is a time of crisis for healthcare and the nation needs leaders who will act, not “talk” and get nothing done. Montanans deserve better representation.

In the absence of specific policies or ideas, it’s clear that either the Senator needs more time to find the politically expedient choice or he absolutely does not want to in any way tweak Obamacare, the bill he was instrumental in passing. In fact, Tom Lutey at the Billings Gazette accurately points out that “Tester has advocated for the Affordable Care Act through in-person town hall meetings more in the last six months than he did in the year before the bill became law.” Defending the failed law more doesn’t seem like the behavior of someone committed to coming up with something better.

In addition to not having done the homework to “fix” healthcare, Tester also faces another challenge in the healthcare debate – Montanan’s mistrust Tester after his lies about Obamacare.

The Senator promised that under Obamacare “if you like your plan, you get to keep it.”, but that turned out to be 2013’s lie of the year.

Tester promised that Obamacare would make healthcare more affordable and costs would go down, but Montanans especially know that isn’t true.

Lie after lie from Senator Tester and Montanans have no reason to trust any more of his false promises. About the only thing we can believe at this point is that Jon Tester has no idea how to fix healthcare.

Consultant Reveals MT Democrat’s ’18 Strategy In Interview

On Sunday’s Face the State, Democratic Political Consultant Tim Warner revealed key elements of Democrat’s 2018 Strategy in his response to a barrage of attacks from his Republican counterpart, guest Aaron Flint.

First, take a few minutes to read this incredible rant about Tim Warner written by our friend Greg Standberg over at Big Sky Words. You won’t regret it.

These strategies were revealed in response to the complete verbal lashing that Warner received from Flint during the discussion. Warner was so taken aback that he was nervous and stammering throughout the interview.

Let’s analyze 3 key elements of the Democrat’s 2018 Strategy:

  1. Repeat that their candidate is a “Good Guy”
  2. Obfuscate candidate’s extremism
  3. Keep candidate’s record vague to prevent scrutiny

Flint posed a simple question to Warner: What has Jon Tester accomplished for the state of Montana while in office? The Democratic Consultant’s answer, repeated over and over: Tester is working “very hard”.

This was a theme we saw right from the start of the discussion, with Warner describing the recent field of Democratic candidates as “fringe” and comparing them to Senator Tester who is a “good person”. He then went on to repeat that talking point about Jesse Lasovich and for Governor Bullock.

In response to questions about Jon Tester’s support for the agenda of Chuck Schumer and other liberal extremists in the Senate, Warner came back to the “working hard” narrative. He’s working hard for our energy industry, working hard for our farmers.. etc.

This reveals more than a preferred saying, it gets to the core of the Democrat’s message for 2018: don’t fault us for our obstruction, our extreme views or our lack of accomplishments because our candidates are “good people” who “work hard”.

It calls back to the failed “experienced, hard working” slogans of Mitt Romney 2012, Jeb Bush 2016 and most importantly, Hillary Clinton. Jon Tester’s record of accomplishments sure can’t be described as anything close to “high energy”. Especially after the 2016 election results, it’s unlikely this “gold star for participating” strategy will be in effective in a political climate demanding change at all costs.

Weeks After Gianforte “Body-Slam” Media Frenzy, Quist Blames Media for Loss

The Montana special election has only been done for a few short weeks, but both candidates seem to already be preparing for a rematch.

Despite the bruising loss, Quist blames everyone besides himself as responsible for the defeat. Apparently the litany of personal issues that dogged his campaign from start to finish, everything from tax evasion to the discovery that Quist has genital herpes, wasn’t the issue. Instead, Quist takes a page from the Donald Trump playbook and blames the media’s reporting on those issues in a recent interview.

“Every time in the local papers, it was always repeating the negative narratives,” Quist said in the interview with Huffington Post.

Add in “covfefe” and Quist’s statement would be hard to differentiate from The Donald.

It’s unnerving when politicians who seek offices of power step this close to attacking the freedom of the press. And also why we called for Gianforte to pull out of the race after his egregious assault incident.

But perhaps this is a more calculated move on Quist’s part. Gianforte raised over $100k after his body slam incident and there is some indication that the body slam may have actually energized his campaign, as twisted as that is.

Congressmen Gianforte has already declared his intention to run for re-election in 2018, despite carrying some immense baggage from his assault. Not only must he continue to dodge questions about why his campaign distributed a statement that contradicts his apology and sentencing plea, a long legal fight now remains as to whether the media will get their prized, juicy mugshot of the Congressman’s booking.

With the addition of Quist taking the “negative media” angle as he considers entering the race again, 2018 looks to be a lively house contest.

Quist Represents Another Hilltop Campaign Failure

As liberal (?) #mtpol commentator Greg Strandberg noted recently, the Quist campaign was doomed the moment that Democratic consulting firm Hilltop Public Solutions took over. We’d like to take a moment to analyze why that may be the case, and what Hilltop’s failure could mean for future Montana Democrat campaigns.

To start, it’s important to note that our site has already received several different comments from our followers asking us to check into Hilltop Public Solutions and the “corporate/establishment Democrats who control the party”. For background, read a quick overview of who Hilltop is here.

There certainly appears to be large animosity from the liberal grassroots towards this group of political operatives. To understand why, we must first understand the Hilltop candidate model.

Take Rob Quist. Quist was already popular among the liberal grassroots because of his Bernie Sanders – style sensibilities. On the second amendment for example, Quist took the extreme far-left stance in favor of radical gun control measures.

But after being nominated, Quist was quickly re-packaged by Hilltop to be sold as the quintessential Montana candidate: a cowboy-hat wearing, gun toting outdoorsman.

Identifying his public views on the 2nd amendment as Quist’s major weakness in this persona, Hilltop had to compensate, even going so far as to make a campaign ad with Quist shooting a TV with his opponent’s ad on the screen.

But this overcompensation led to big problems. The wide disconnect between Quist’s express support for gun control alongside his “strong support for the second amendment” made easy opposition fodder for the rival campaign. Quist’s own record as an outdoorsman was even called out after it was discovered he hasn’t had a hunting license in over a decade. Needless-to-say, this along with other factors led to his defeat.

Hilltop’s model is to cloak their candidates in enough Montana identity to disguise often times extreme leftwing views on issues that aren’t acceptable to a majority of voters. However, this tight-rope walking of the issues serves to alienate the progressive base they rely on the most and open candidates up to right wing calls of hypocrisy.

For a progressive Hilltop candidate, there won’t be any “progress” once in office. Their term will be filled with charting moderate stances, avoiding substance and placating their base just enough while still attempting to keep up the charade of Montana values.

The bottom line is that a candidacy staked on identity can only go so far. And, like Quist’s doomed campaign, it will collapse if other developments call that identity into question.

But Hilltop remains the preeminent strategists for the Montana Democratic Party, and their next big test will be re-electing Jon Tester in 2018.

Tester has all of the same trappings of a classic Hilltop politician: he oozes “Montananess” and plays up an image of generally left-of-center stances on issues. But that’s where the real trouble comes in for Democrats in 2018.

Tester’s play to Montana identity won’t be nearly as effective after spending so long in D.C. And it will be incredibly hard for Tester to hide his extreme liberal views after a decade of votes on the record to defend. This will especially take a toll on important issues like the second amendment, where Tester is on the record supporting universal background checks and other gun control measures.

Make no mistake, Tester will be in a vulnerable position. And if the GOP is smart, they will nominate a candidate who will stake their race on these issues and press Tester to reconcile his extreme leftwing votes with his “Montana values”.

As long as Montana Democratic candidates are forced to follow the Hilltop model, walking the tight-rope on issues and chasing a long lost image of Brian Schweitzer, they will continue to campaign at a disadvantage in the age of Trump.

End note: This post focused on the flaws with the main candidate model of the Montana Democrats. We are saving our analysis of the flawed Trump “model” for GOP candidates until a later date.

Gianforte’s “Body slam-gate” means it’s Tim Fox for Governor in 2020

After a whirlwind closing week to the Montana Special Election, the vote results came in as predicted, even if everything else wildly exceeded the expectations.

As Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight put it “You might even say that the results were a bit predictable, as crazy as the journey was to get here.”

However, Greg Gianforte’s conduct was anything but predictable. After “body-slamming” a reporter, Gianforte was the top of the national news cycle, with many pundits and national political figures weighing in to condemn his actions.

Among those who rebuked Gianforte was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said about the incident “I do not think this is acceptable behavior”

Montana Senator Steve Daines even weighed in, calling on Gianforte to “apologize”. An apology finally came, but after the vote was already decided.

Now that Gianforte has won, where does he go from here?

It’s likely that the “body slam” incident will be baggage that Gianforte will continue to carry. David Erickson at the Missoulian already has a great piece out analyzing the likely rough road ahead for Gianforte in Congress.

Something that hasn’t been talked about however is what this means for Gianforte’s political future.

It has been painfully obvious that Congress was not Mr. Gianforte’s first choice, he wanted the Governor’s seat. Many saw running for Congress as a step towards running again for the open seat for Governor in 2020.

However, Gianforte is likely now “damaged goods”. He may continue to run for re-election for his house seat, but from our perspective there can be no upward movement for him after his conduct this election, at least in the foreseeable future.

Where does this leave the GOP’s candidate field for 2018 Senate and 2020 Governor?

The “damaged goods” of Gianforte has made the path forward at least a bit more clear for Montana AG Tim Fox. It’s been known that Fox has been angling to run for Governor in 2020. As a respected statewide office holder, he’d be a formidable candidate.

But Gianforte is very close with Senator Daines, who holds considerable political sway in the party. His nomination for the special election was seen by many as Daines clearing the way for Gianforte to run again for Governor in 2020. With that in mind, there is speculation that Fox has been encouraged to run for Senate against Tester in 2018 in order to further clear potential challenges to Gianforte 2020.

But with Gianforte’s incident, Fox is likely back in the reigns. He could still run for Senate in 2018, but it’s more likely that he will coast the next 3 years promoting his positive state-based initiatives and run in 2020 for Governor.

With that being the likely scenario, the real question is who will run against Tester in 2018?

We will continue to monitor developments as 2018 approaches.

Greg Gianforte should rescind candidacy

May 24th, 2017 the strangest day in Montana political history.

As most readers are probably already aware, Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted a Guardian reporter in his campaign HQ in Bozeman.  

Ultimately this action has led to Gianforte being charged with misdemeanor assault. According to Montana law, this charge can result in a $500 fine and up to 6 months in jail under the maximum sentence.

Here at the Montana Political Review, we are astonished and quite frankly disgusted with congressional candidate Greg Gianforte’s behavior.

Free speech, free press, and freedom of association are guaranteed to all US citizens under the 1st amendment of the US constitution. These rights were protected in statute, as they fundamentally protect the individual in their natural capacity to advance ideas.

Folks on the right commonly criticize the left wing of suppressing free speech and utilizing violent means to push individuals out of the public square. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Americans watched as peaceful protests turned into violent riots. We have seen groups like Antifa come into the fold; often utilizing violence as a means to shut down opposing views.

It is our opinion that this behavior is not only deplorable, but that it is a cheap and weak way of advancing ideas.

To see a major party’s congressional candidate utilize violent means to shut down journalists is as detrimental, if not more, as when the left wing uses violence to shut down opposing viewpoints.

Greg Gianforte has campaigned as a conservative who is hellbent on protecting individual rights, challenging a leftist media, and representing Montana. His actions on Wednesday completely undermine this effort.

People who work to advance individualism and free speech understand that it is better to win in the battle of ideas than to stoop to violence. Once you raise your fist, no matter how provoked, you lose all credibility.

Many on the right in Montana are quick to defend Gianforte’s actions, saying it was a set up, or that the journalist deserved it. While it is no secret that the Montana media has never been a fan of Gianforte, this does not justify violence.

This blog was started on the principles of free speech. We believe that anonymity allows us to engage in political discourse in a manner that presents ideas without worrying about partisan or individual baggage. We wish to inject a viewpoint that readers can intellectually grapple with solely on the merits of the ideas.

The altercation between Gianforte and the guardian journalist are reprehensible. If Gianforte truly believes that his ideas and worldview are superior, he would not allow himself to resort to violent means.

While we have major reservations about the other candidates in the election for congress, we believe Gianforte has proven incapable at advancing the ideas of individualism in a civil manner. It is because of these reasons, we believe he needs to withdraw from the congressional campaign.

Montana deserves representation that respects the first amendment, and opposes the use of force to advance ideas. Greg Gianforte has demonstrated that while he may consider himself an advocate for individualism, when the tensions are high, he cannot uphold these beliefs himself.

POLL: Quist in Death Spiral

 

A recent poll from Emerson College polling released some devastating numbers for the banjo plucking congressional hopeful. The poll placed Quist 15 points below his opponent.

That kind of dismal poll performance would be devastating for any campaign, but the bad news doesn’t end there for the mustachioed folk singer. Only 69% of self identified Democrats committed to supporting Quist. Meanwhile 26% of Democrats have reported they intend to vote for Republican Gianforte.

Our staff reported earlier this year that Rob Quist was a candidate handpicked by the corporate establishment in the Democratic Party and that his problems with Montana Values would play to his detriment. The Montana Democrats ran to the middle with Rob Quist, hoping his folksy demeanor and cowboy image would be enough to win over Montana.

Our prediction seems to have been proven correct with Quist’s total failure to be a performer in the polls. Now, with the shocking number of Democrats pledging support for Republican Gianforte, it appears Quist may be trying to salvage his progressive bonafides.

In order to remedy their apparent disconnect with liberal grassroots, the Quist Campaign has announced they are bringing Senator Bernie Sanders to campaign alongside Rob Quist. Here at the Montana Political Review, we think Quist is over-correcting with this move, and will only further distance himself from Montana voters.

According to the same Emerson College Poll, 48% of Montanans have an unfavorable view of Bernie Sanders and even more damning, only 35% of independents view Sanders favorably. These numbers could spell disaster for Rob Quist’s chances. But that isn’t stopping the Quist campaign from heavily promoting the upcoming visitor from Vermont.

Rob Quist is being flanked on all sides right now. Democrats are running away from his candidacy and planning on voting for Gianforte. He is bringing in a millionaire from Vermont to campaign alongside him, only to find out most Montanans don’t like the guy.

Rob Quist is not doing well. He has been consistently making poor campaign decisions, opting for “feel good” but ultimately ineffective tactics like having New York celebrities drive overwhelmingly liberal college students to the polls. Quist has essentially given up trying to reach the middle-of-the-road independent Montanans, and now apparently has to spend vast resources assuring turnout from the usually loyal base. With only about a month left to go, Rob Quist is likely to end up as second fiddle.

Dark Money Group Dropped as Host for Rob Quist’s “Very Adult” Cabaret Show Fundraiser

The dark money group Big Sky Rising has been dropped as a host for the risqué “Wet Hot Amurican Mess” fundraiser for Rob Quist’s campaign, now replaced as host by the official Flathead Democratic Party.

Event page before:

Quist Fundraiser

Event page now:

murican mess

It’s unclear what spurred the change in hosts or the lock down of the event, but it was likely due heightened scrutiny from the national attention the event received after our report, as well as the murky campaign finance implications of a dark money group directly coordinating with a candidate for congress.

This quiet event change indicates that our report must have struck a nerve. If coordination wasn’t an issue, then why change the hosts and lock down the event? Someone must have decided a change was needed.

It’s interesting to note the ease in which this hosting handoff took place. Big Sky Rising must be closely connected with the official Democratic Party, if not one in the same.

Read more about Quist’s “one night only” risqué event now hosted by the Flathead Democratic Party here

Will Dark Money Groups Benefit the Quist Campaign?

Being out-spent and outmaneuvered by a large margin with election day on the horizon, the Quist campaign has cast aside the “money shouldn’t buy elections” rhetoric and resorted to begging for national money. Or at least it seems that way on #mtpol, with posts trickling in every day pleading with the national Democrats to send money to Quist’s campaign.

quist 5

It appears the only thing this desperate outreach has evoked so far is pity. National Democrats have their sights set on other races with young up-and-coming candidates, not a safe republican special election with a 65+ white male banjo player with a history of tax evasion.

That being said, a few outside groups are taking part in the election spending spree. Republican spending has been well documented already, with groups like the NRCC and NRA spending hundreds of thousands on TV ads and other election operations to support Gianforte and oppose Quist.

Spending has been more modest on the Democratic side with election group Planned Parenthood pouring thousands into mobilizing door canvassers and phone callers

What remains to be seen is the effect of dark money groups who are dedicating a large amount of resources to actively organizing for Rob Quist. Big Sky Rising, the liberal group we previously reported as hosting a risque, “very adult” fundraiser for Quist, has been continuing to coordinate efforts in support of the campaign. Quist campaign events pepper their internal organizing calendar, linked here.

However, the impact of Big Sky Rising’s campaign activity is hard to measure when their spending disclosures, or even a simple list of their donor’s contributions, are nowhere to be found.

It’s unclear exactly how much money and resources Big Sky Rising has spent or is planning to spend supporting the Quist campaign. It’s also unclear exactly who is the money behind the operation, since they don’t disclose their donors. Montanans deserve to know the special interests trying to influence our election.

Our investigative team will be monitoring the campaign operations of dark money groups like Big Sky Rising in our continued special election coverage.

Quist Touts Conspiracy Theories During Radio Spot

Montana congressional candidate Rob Quist revealed a deep skepticism of widely proven science during a radio interview recently, touting conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical drugs.

Responding to a question about prescription drugs, Quist claimed “there are natural cures.. that are so much safer” and continued describing his aversion to prescribed medicine, “nobody knows how those things interact with each other”.

The radio interviewer attempts to save Quist from the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, saying “that’s because you’re supposed to ask your pharmacist.” But the damage had already been done.

Not only is Quist’s abrupt denial of modern science medically and factually inaccurate on many levels, his aversion to pharmaceuticals sides him with claims touted by only the most nutty conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones.

This should be alarming to Montanans considering a vote for Quist. If he is willing to ignore proven medical science on this issue during the campaign, can we trust Quist to weigh the facts before a vote in Congress? Or will he continue to side with absurd conspiracies and fringe wing-nuts?

“Quistcare” would likely be a scary proposition, with a socialized healthcare system steering sick people in need of advanced medicines to “natural” remedies and other medical quackery.

Quist’s position on prescription drugs puts him way out of step with the majority of voters, even among his own Democratic party, and closely aligns him with the anti-vaxxer, “bunker-dwellers” recently railed against by the Montana Cowgirl.

On that note, our staff wonders where Quist stands on the use of vaccines? With no publicly available positions on the topic, we think that Montanans deserve to know where he stands.

Does Quist also believe in the “New World Order” and “Chemtrails”? The intellectual company he keeps certainly does.

A statewide congressional candidate touting nutty anti-science conspiracies is unprecedented, and our team will closely monitor this emerging issue for the rest of this election.

Quist’s anti-science disconnect with the average voter is likely to spell more bad news for his struggling campaign.

Is Rob Quist’s Shoestring Campaign Violating Campaign Laws?

From holding a risqué campaign event with the help of a mysterious dark money organization, to lying about not paying his taxes, Quist and his campaign’s money troubles continue to dominate this special election with recent discussion about his campaign’s “Borrowed RV”.

Social media and puff piece editorials have been echoing talking points crafted by Quist’s campaign from the beginning. Noticeably, several mentioned that Quist was traveling the state in a “borrowed RV”. Somehow this was supposed to play into Quist’s “Montana Values” mantra.

Instead, it piqued the interest of our staff and SHOULD pique the interest of any truly non-bias campaign regulator.

The FEC’s website breaks down guidelines for in-kind contributions here.

Essentially, anything donated of value has to be counted towards the contribution limits, so $2700 per election per individual donation. The value is calculated based on the “fair market price” of what the good or service would have been offered for had it not been an in-kind contribution.

Our staff researchers took the liberty of finding rental prices at commercial RV rental companies. They found that a RV rental in Montana, even just for the rest of the special election, would cost much more than the $2700 FEC limit. Try it for yourself. 

Montana media watchdogs and federal campaign regulators should absolutely investigate whether Rob Quist’s friend is charging his campaign fair market value to rent this RV and drive it all over the state. If he’s not, that’s a big deal here.

It’s clear there is a massive fundraising deficit between the Republican and Democratic nominee in this race. With his first TV ad coming out this week, Quist lags behind the competition and must do something to keep his budget tight and any extra money focused on countering the negative media hits that keep coming up this campaign.

It might be convenient if Quist’s campaign uses a “borrowed RV”. But Montanans have a right to know if their a congressional candidate is violating campaign law.

Lee Newspapers Copies Campaign Talking Points

If you read the description of our blog, you’ll find a simple mission. News and Commentary aimed at breaking the Helena Bubble.

Anyone who follows politics in Montana knows that a core component of breaking the “Helena Bubble” is an independent environment of journalism that searches for truth. We rely on quality journalism in Montana to get a better understanding of what people with power are doing in their elected capacities. We agree with other “famous” mtpol followers like Don Pogreba that journalists should not be in the business of simply copying opposition research from the major political parties.

That is why we are very disappointed in the article that came out of The Billings Gazette today that seems to compile every accusation the left in Montana has made for the last year and a half with little to no proof. 

Here is our beef with the story and why it flies in the face of quality journalism. Our hope is that the author, Jayme Fraser, sees this as some constructive criticism because we consider her to usually be one of the best reporters in the state. It is our opinion that she is above this kind of reporting.

Our first contention is that the article doesn’t bring any new information to the public. These are all old stories with old lines already drawn and no new information about Taylor Rose, Greg Gianforte or Ryan Zinke. Essentially this story is a compilation of all the articles covering Rose in the 2016 election. The compilation pushes a narrative that the left has been screaming since 2016: “Taylor Rose is a racist, but he denies it. Greg Gianforte donated to every Republican candidate in Montana and Taylor Rose was one of them. Thereby dog-whistling to the left, “is Greg Gianforte a secret racist? We don’t have any evidence but here’s a narrative.”

Secondly, the entire story relies on the Democrat party attack blog the Montana Cowgirl. Ironically,  the Cowgirl blog was taken down after it was exposed as a website run by the Rob Quist Campaign or at least Quist communications director Tina Olechowski! Jayme Frasier just falls short of linking to the blog’s resources. Perhaps the Gazette didn’t want to bring to light that the blog is dead in the water since the revelation that it was a Democrat party run blog.

It’s on this point we find the Gazette’s actions particularly egregious. Where are the news articles asking Rob Quist how he feels about running a website that attacks the children of politicians for disagreeing with their policy stances? Or declaring legislators as misogynists, “obsessed with women’s bodies” because they disagree with the Democrat party about abortion.

But then again, the Billings Gazette has been relying on the Democrats— er—  the Cowgirl blog for years. Readers might remember that the Cowgirl Blog broke the stream access story  in the 2016 governor’s race. Only for Jayme Fraser and Holly Michaels to essentially copy the blog post in a Missoulian story. Thereby doing exactly what Don Pogreba claims Lee newspapers is doing today in the 2017 Special Election; running the opposition research files from the opposing party as though it were a news story.

Our third issue with today’s story is that it relies heavily on the testimony of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is not a credible organization and has fallen out of favor as an effective watchdog organization. Why? Because in 2014 even the Obama-run FBI could no longer stand the blowback pressure from the victims of SPLC hate-mongering and removed them from their list of organizations who track hate crime and groups. The SPLC has garnered, by those who actually care about discrimination, a reputation of using that language to shame critics of the left out of the public sphere. Their behavior as an organization has been very well documented.  Any serious reporter should reconsider using them as an authoritative source. Assuming they actually want to tell the truth. (For curious readers we wanted to provide additional resources: Source to consider.  Source to Consider.)

The truth is, we don’t know what Taylor Rose secretly believes about the world, because when the Gazette asks him about his views he says;

“I am not affiliated with white supremacist groups or leaders,” Rose told the Flathead Beacon in October. “To say otherwise is slanderous. Youth for Western Civilization was a cultural group, not a racist group. We defined Western civilization by the classic definition of ancient Greeks and Romans, and we were pro-Christian. We did not say it was exclusively white. We were also very critical of Islam, but that is an ideological issue, not a racial issue. I can promise you that Liberty University would not have tolerated a white power group on its campus.”

Then in the same story the Gazette quotes the accusation a democratic campaign contributor named Laurie Franklin that accused Taylor of using “Racist words” and Gianforte should have condemned them:

“Mr. Gianforte never spoke against these two men to whom he had donated money, never denounced their racist words and actions,” Franklin wrote. “It’s not normal to support white supremacists. White Supremacy is not a Montana Value.”

Once again the Gazette fails to actually tell the reader what racist words Taylor used. Whatever happened to a standard of evidence for journalism? Running an opinion letter from an obviously biased Democrat is one thing, pretending that letter is authoritative is another.

All of this narrative only follows logically if you believe that western civilization is inherently racist. Or that racism was somehow important to what folks like Rose believe about the world. But if that’s true, make your case! Prove it with reasoned argumentation and evidence. Or just write an opinion piece! But don’t pretend this is news reporting. Don’t pretend you are adding to the collective consciousness of Montana by piecing together innuendo and narrative in the absence of any evidence.

If Taylor Rose said something racist, then quote it, get proof. Otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time and perhaps misrepresenting a non-racist with a word that should be reserved for the worst kind of people. Our primary contention is not about Rose, it’s about journalism and professional integrity. Why write this summary of old news stories now with no new news to cover?

Jayme, is this why you became a journalist?