Quist is a deadbeat. Gianforte is rich. You love the rich guy, right?

From an ad by friends of in-touch tech multimillionaire Greg Gianforte

Montana’s special election is one week away, and the Rob Quist campaign is starting to look like a series of unforced errors. Let us begin with his nomination. Quist was handpicked by the Democratic Party, not by the usual primary system. Somehow, no one in that august political body thought to run a credit check. Pretty much the first story that came out was about the liens filed against their candidate for unpaid property taxes in 2011 and the bill for which he stiffed a contractor in 2001. I can see such problems haunting a popular favorite, but the Democrats chose Quist for his electability. Surely there was some other Democrat in the state who lacked not just political experience but also a debt trail.

Fortunately, the Quist campaign is staffed by experienced operatives from the state party. These old hands know the voters of Montana well enough to find sure ways to distinguish Quist from his opponent—for example, by running the exact same campaign ads. That’s how you win as a Democrat: by acting like a Republican. This principle explains why Quist downplayed his support for single-payer health care and emphasized his support for guns. It also explains why Hillary Clinton is president now. It does not explain why campaign manager Les Braswell accidentally tweeted  as The Montana Cowgirl from the Quist campaign account, but we can’t explain everything. He probably got hacked.

Anyway, the Democratic Party is incompetent, even in the last best place. Facing an opponent who just lost a statewide election for governor in which he underperformed the top of his ticket by 20 points, they appear to be headed for defeat. Now is the time to reflect on deep questions. My deepest: In the present economic climate, how is being rich not the biggest obstacle a candidate can face?

American inequality is the worst it’s been in 100 years. Montana has the second-lowest per capita income of any state in the Union, and a politically inexperienced billionaire is on the verge of impeachment in Washington. Yet Quist has said nothing meaningful about inequality. Republicans, convinced we love millionaires as much as they do, are using his personal debts as a cudgel. Call me a pinko, but I wonder if voters might identify more with the guy whose $20,000 debt is wrecking his life than the guy who sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion. You can read all about this strange discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. It’s a particularly exciting issue, containing not just my inchoate palaver but also the story of a growing schism in the Montana Libertarian Party and your girl Michael Siebert’s feature-length essay on why the left should embrace gun ownership. Check ’em out. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Both candidates in Montana now running ads where they shoot TVs

Real Montanans Rob Quist and Greg Gianforte, with guns

In only three weeks, the voters of Montana will select a new congressman to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who vacated his seat as our sole representative in the US House to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. It’s an exciting race. Democrat Rob Quist, at left above, is a locally famous folk singer who has never held public office. Republican Greg Gianforte, at right, is a millionaire tech entrepreneur who ran for governor in 2016 but has also never held public office. Both men were chosen by their parties, rather than by the usual primary process, to run in the special election. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real Montanans like me and, to a lesser extent, you. Why, just look at how they shoot guns!

That’s Greg Gianforte, wearing very clean work clothes and shooting a twelve-gauge at some office equipment in a field. Whoever did the voiceover for this one belongs in the Scary Ad Voice hall of fame. He says “national gun registry” in the scandalized tone most of us would reserve for “lobster in her vagina.” As you can see from this spot, candidate Gianforte loves guns and hates computers. That’s a sharp contrast with candidate Quist, who loves guns and hates Gianforte.

In the future, all political discourse will be conducted by shooting things that represent ideas. All candidates will be celebrities and tycoons with no record of public service, who are operated by their parties via remote control. What’s striking about these two ads is their near-total similarity. Creeping similarity has been a real problem in this contest between two supposedly different candidates for the House, which has amounted to a dance-off of affected pandering to a political consultant’s idea of Montana.

What if Montanans picked their leaders based on something other than who shoots a gun and lives on a ranch? What if the parties gave us to understand that our decisions could mean something besides “support Trump” or “stop Trump?” What if Montana politics were not, at this moment, captured entirely by cynics? These questions are academic. You can read all about them in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find an object that represents exemptions for pre-existing conditions on the individual health insurance market and prop it up on a fencepost. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Backing “Republican/Trump agenda,” Gianforte takes un-Christian turn

Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte and a rhetorical question

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved Rep. Ryan Zinke (R–Mont.) as nominee for Secretary of the Interior, bringing him one step closer to vacating his seat in the House. That means Montanans are likely to be treated to another election. In preparation, Bozeman multi-millionaire Greg Gianforte—who took second in last year’s race for governor—has announced his bid for the Republican nomination. Here’s a quote from the email he sent out last Thursday:

This race will be ground zero and the first official battle waged by the Democrats to stop the Republican/Trump agenda. I simply will not stand on the sidelines and allow that to happen. I’m ready to fight for our shared Montana values.

That’s an explicit declaration of support for the national GOP and President Trump. It came at an inauspicious moment, though, because the very next day the Republican/Trump agenda took an ugly turn. In a move that surprised the Department of Homeland Security and garnered injunctions from multiple courts, Trump banned refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, prohibited travelers from seven Muslim nations, and blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely. He did it to keep us safe from terrorism.

Never mind that no refugee has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil. The important thing is that we’re finally doing something for ourselves, by specifically barring the people who are suffering most. This move puts Gianforte in a tough position. As a Christian, he probably remembers that Jesus said not to let any poor, suffering people into your house, in case one of them tries to hurt you. But as a Biblical literalist who rejects the theory of evolution and once cited Noah to argue against the concept of retirement, he probably also read James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

That’s just one of several Bible passages that suggest specifically barring people without clothes and daily food from the United States might not be the Christian thing to do. Gianforte is on the horns of a dilemma, here. He’s already paid the political price for the prominent role his faith plays in his public life. Will he now throw over that faith to get behind President Trump, a man who is Christian in roughly the same way as marshmallow Peeps? You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I invite Gianforte to choose his millennia-old belief system over the political fad that started last year. He’s a reasonable man, and I hope he listens. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

There’s no such thing as a disposable Trump voter

Voters

Voters

Life hack: skip the alarm by waking suddenly in the middle of the night to think about how Donald Trump is the next president. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last week, and it really cuts down on unnecessary neck mobility. It’s hard to decide which is worse: his presidency or the knowledge that people voted for him. Handed the reins of our democracy, a little under half of Americans failed to see a lying egomaniac for what he was. Or they did and thought, “At least he’s not a woman.”

It sucks to think about all the people who voted Trump, because the reasons they might have done so seem awful. In the search for the most likely explanation, the contest between misogyny and racism continues. If you prefer to think the best of people, the sunniest plausible narrative is that “economic anxiety” scared people enough to turn against the system but not enough to learn about it. If people only voted for Trump because they’re scared of going broke, they still couldn’t grasp the candidates’ platforms well enough to recognize their own interests. Economic anxiety voted to cut taxes on the rich.

Yet you cannot contemn these people, because we need them. Without at least some of the people who voted for Trump, you can’t put a women in the White House. You can’t make public college free. You can’t fix Obamacare. You can’t even keep a reality TV celebrity from taking the Oval Office. If we intend to run this democracy better, “half of voters are stupid assholes” cannot be our operating principle.

Racism, misogyny, and Republicans’ ongoing hypnosis of the white working class made a lot of people vote for Trump, but did they make every person vote for Trump? It’s dangerous to say there’s no such thing as a good Trump voter, because it puts the blame for this disastrous election on everyone the Democrats failed to convince. Maybe they’re not the problem.

If I could say one thing to the Democratic Party: It’s not our job to vote for you. It’s your job to convince us. Hillary Clinton and the DNC did a good job of convincing me to vote against Trump, but they never gave me a clear sense of what I voted for.

Trump said he would deport immigrants and watch Muslims. That’s disgusting and I voted against it, but what was Hillary’s counteroffer? The college thing was nice, although she kind of stopped talking about it after the primaries. More intervention in Syria sounded both bad and likely—more likely than financial regulation or taxing the rich. Her central promise was to continue the Obama legacy. In a year that saw 16 experienced Republicans wrecked by an anti-establishment bomb thrower, offering voters more of the same seems like electoral suicide.

In retrospect it seems that way. At the time, we all knew she was going to win. Now our comfort feels like complacency, and everything is fucked. Birds crawl along the ground as our blood flies up into the clouds. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Rumors about Bullock, O’Leary leap from blogs to newspaper

What's going on between Governor Bullock and this big check?

What’s going on between Governor Bullock and this big check?

Here’s a fun game: try to name the most prominent policy idea of the 2016 Montana governor’s race. Republican Greg Gianforte wants to improve the economy by—wait for it—lowering taxes and lifting regulations. Governor Steve Bullock wants to continue being governor. If ideas were glue, these two couldn’t build a model plane. But it doesn’t matter, because they’d gouge each other’s eyes out before they got all the parts out of the box. Their almost purely negative campaign got even darker last week, when NewsTalk KGVO ran this story, ostensibly about Bullock’s use of the state plane but also about how he uses it to take trips with cabinet member Meg O’Leary.

Rumors that there is something untoward about their relationship have circulated on conservative blogs for some time. Until last week, you never heard about it in the mainstream press, probably because there’s no evidence. But then KGVO ran the headline “Governor Bullock Brought Meg O’Leary to Paul McCartney Concert Instead of First Lady, State Plane Use Questioned.”

As usual when a headline uses the passive verb “questioned,” they omitted the phrase “by us.” A subsequent story in the more scrupulous Billings Gazette contradicted several of KGVO’s implications.  It seems like the original piece was pretty thinly sourced. It didn’t say much that hadn’t already been said—also without substantiation—in various right-leaning blogs. So why run it now?

Maybe it had something to do with the news that Oracle was moving 100 jobs from Bozeman to Texas. Gianforte sold his software company RightNow Technologies to Oracle in 2011. His success in creating high-wage jobs has been a major selling point of his campaign, but this layoff undermines that. Is it possible KGVO ran the O’Leary story to overshadow the layoffs? Although Gianforte’s communications director, Aaron Flint, has a friendly relationship with KGVO, it would be irresponsible to say he nudged them. I mean, what are we—KGVO?

You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I challenge the candidates to come up with some idea—any idea—related to policy. The voters of Montana deserve something better than a choice between negatives. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, hopefully including a fun surprise.