A Republican-turned-Democrat running for an upcoming vacancy in the Senate said the GOP no longer exists in Montana.
John Bohlinger, 77, served in the Montana state house and senate before running as a Republican lieutenant governor candidate alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer. The split ticket won in 2004 and 2008.
Bohlinger is now running as a Democrat for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
“My place in the Republican Party began to disappear when the moderates like myself began to disappear. I found that I really had no place in the caucus. I was a member of our House of Representatives for three terms, elected to two terms in our Montana Senate,” Bohlinger told MSNBC.
“And with the coming of a stronger support of libertarians and Tea Party members, moderates just — they were forced out. And the party of which I was once a member no longer exists today in Montana. They’ve either become independent or they’ve become Democrats. And I chose to become a Democrat.”
Montana’s other senator, Jon Tester (D), fended off a challenge last year from Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.). Running for Baucus’ seat on the GOP side is Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who filled Rehberg’s seat.
Bohlinger maintained that today Ronald Reagan wouldn’t “pass the smell test” with the GOP.
“He was a moderate by today’s standards, which, you know, those moderates have left the Republican Party. He might have a hard time finding a seat at the table,” he said.
Bohlinger said the Tea Party has “moved so far to the right of the mainstream, it’s difficult for them to really find traction.”
“Max Baucus is a conservative Democrat. His style of politics has appealed to a lot of Montanans. Served for six terms in the U.S. Senate. Two terms in the House of Representatives. So he’s got 40 years on the hill,” he said. “His popularity has been challenged, but I think that, you know, the Tea Party has not been — I don’t think they’ve been a problem in his — in his campaign or reelection efforts. They — I think they are just too far to the right from where the mainstream is here in Montana.”
In announcing his bid for the Senate seat last week, Bohlinger compared the Tea Party to Afghan Islamic extremists.
“We need to challenge the Tea Party representatives who like the Taliban shut our country down,” he said.