We live in the age of rich bullies. In November, Donald Trump showed that a proven record of stiffing your own employees and being caught on tape boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy,” was no bar to being elected president of the United States. “When you’re a star,” Trump told Billy Bush, “you can do anything.”
Greg Gianforte is nobody’s idea of a star. A software tycoon who made his first million at the age of 33, he retired to Montana and founded a second company, RightNow, that lets businesses outsource their customer-service operations, Gianforte ran for governor in 2016 against Democrat Steve Bullock and lost by a little over 18,000 votes. On Wednesday, the day before the polls closed in the special election to replace Representative Ryan Zinke, Gianforte assaulted a reporter who was trying to ask him his position on the Republican health-care plan. On Thursday Gianforte beat Democratic challenger Rob Quist by nearly 26,000 votes.
Gianforte’s ability to write his own campaign checks helped persuade Republicans to give him another chance, but in the end the winner’s ample wallet was less of a factor than the $ 2 million he received from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the $1 million he got from the National Republican Congressional Committee—or the hundreds of thousands the National Rifle Association spent on attack ads.
Quist, a folk singer whose own financial troubles became an issue in the campaign, got just $600,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—though, thanks to a big push by Daily Kos, Move On, Our Revolution, and Planned Parenthood, Quist actually raised more money than Gianforte in the campaign’s final month.
This was a dirty, hard-fought, expensive race between two unconventional candidates. Quist attacked Gianforte, who has lived in Montana for more than 20 years, as a “millionaire from New Jersey” who wanted to sell off the state’s public lands to developers. Gianforte called Quist “Nancy Pelosi in a cowboy hat.” But his surrogates, and the right-wing blogosphere, used Quist’s medical records to depict the Democrat as a degenerate with a history of “genital herpes” and a troubled marriage. Gianforte’s body slam of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was just the last low blow. And since Montana’s early voting meant that a majority of voters had already returned their ballots, the incident probably had limited impact on the final result.