Republican businessman Greg Gianforte is favored to win the special election in Montana to replace Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, but he made headlines for all the wrong reasons after assaulting a reporter Wednesday night. He has been charged with misdemeanor assault, but that hasn’t pushed away online donors. In fact, he has raised over $100,000 in the 24 hours after the assault.
“Source close to Gianforte campaign says have raised over $100k online in last 24hrs w/ very lg majority of $ coming post incident last night,” Alex Moe, NBC News Capitol Hill producer, tweeted Thursday night.
Source close to Gianforte campaign says have raised over $100k online in last 24hrs w/ very lg majority of $ coming post incident last night
— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) May 25, 2017
How could people support Gianforte after he reportedly assaulted a journalist? Perhaps the more pertinent question is, how could Trump voters not pull the lever for him? The Montana Republican was constantly badgered by Guardian reporters like Ben Jacobs. After the swagger of Trump, who repeatedly attacks the misleading “fake news” media, carried Montana by huge margins, some are predicting that the assault actually favored Gianforte.
President Trump is a macho man, and many Trump supporters might see a Republican willing to strike back at an offensive liberal reporter as similarly manly. He can stand up for himself, and that’s a reason to support him, in their eyes.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan chided Gianforte for his treatment of the reporter, saying, “I do not think this is acceptable behavior.”
GOP strategist Rick Wilson lamented this “Trump effect.”
“This Gianforte assault story is one of those moments where the cultural collapse of the GOP into the Trump Troll Party is captured,” Wilson tweeted. He attacked those who might defend “someone assaulting a reporter because ‘duh lubrul media lies.'”
1/ This Gianforte assault story is one of those moments where the cultural collapse of the GOP into the Trump Troll Party is captured
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) May 25, 2017
Wilson asked, “Are you so past the rule of law, and lack so much confidence in your ideas that this is where you take political satisfaction? Because if this is where you are, you’re not a party; you’re a mob. If this is where you are, you’re not a conservative; you’re trash.”
The GOP strategist concluded by saying, “If you’re a Republican or conservative defending this, please stop identifying yourself as either.”
11/ If you're a Republican or conservative defending this, please stop identifying yourself as either
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) May 25, 2017
The connection between Gianforte and Trump goes further than the willingness to engage in fisticuffs. Both Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump’s son Donald Jr. have campaigned with the Montana Republican.
While many Republicans might side with Wilson on this, Trump supporters are sick of the GOP playing by “politically correct” rules. They might defend Gianforte — and be willing to send him extra money after the assault — because he is not afraid to fight back.
This particular Twitter user might merely be trolling, but his message seems to fit this mentality. “I just voted for Greg Gianforte because our founding fathers used to duel to the death over arguments and they weren’t deemed ‘unfit,'” a user named who identified himself as “a 35 year old former Marine/full time gamer/ninja/comedian” tweeted.
A retired fireman added, “I voted for Gianforte. Wouldn’t change my vote. Quist is Bernie Sanders socialist. No choice there.”
I voted for Gianforte. Wouldn't change my vote. Quist is Bernie Sanders socialist. No choice there.
— Mule Skinner Blues (@Joninvent) May 26, 2017
In fact, Gianforte even won counties that voted for Hillary Clinton last November. Polls closed at 8 p.m. Mountain time, and as results trickled in, it became clear that despite the assault, the Republican would win the day.
Gianforte’s victory does not mean Montanans approve of his assaulting a reporter, but the online fundraising suggests intense support among some corners — and Rick Wilson might be right to say that money came from Trump supporters. Is this proof that the GOP is becoming the “Trump Troll” party, or is it evidence that Republicans are finally willing to stand up for themselves?