But will it be enough to win?
According to an AP report, former gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte claimed to hold a de facto lock on the Republican nomination for the U.S. House, a point quickly disputed by Sen. Ed Buttrey:
Buttrey, a moderate Republican state senator from Great Falls, said that may have been the case a month ago but not anymore. Since Buttrey and other candidates have been lobbying those delegates, some of Gianforte’s initial backers have been peeled off, he said.
‘It comes down to electability,’ Buttrey said. ‘The Ryan Zinke type that I am can carry the right, can carry the middle and a little of the left. That’s what Greg doesn’t get, that’s why he didn’t win the governor’s office.’
While Gianforte said he “[doesn’t] take anything for granted,” that hasn’t stopped him from already advertising for the special election, even without the nomination.
We wrote about Gianforte’s electability issues, and so did Dr. Ed Berry, himself a Republican. Berry’s analysis focuses on Gianforte’s alignment with VCE’s, or “Very Conservative Evangelical” Republicans, as he calls them. These VCE’s are disciples of Ted Cruz-style Constitutional conservatism, and do not possess the “yuge” tent appeal of Ryan Zinke, President Trump, or Buttrey. Berry warns:
There is only one non-VCE candidate who the MTGOP can choose. That candidate is Ed Buttrey. Buttrey voted for the CSKT Compact. Buttrey is the candidate most like Zinke.
If the MTGOP chooses Ed Buttrey, Buttrey will very likely win.
If the MTGOP chooses any other candidate, all of whom are VCEs who did not support the CSKT Compact, then the Democrat is very likely to win.
I estimate Buttrey’s chance to win is ten times the chance that any other Republican candidate can win.
Ryan Zinke used a proven formula to win a statewide race. VCEs reject both Zinke and his proven formula to win. That is a bad decision.
If last June’s primary shellacking of the far-right and Gianforte’s November loss weren’t enough, one of the Legislature’s most visible and conservative voices recently went on a tear against Gianforte. Speaking in Townsend just two weeks ago, Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, advised his party to choose someone who was “electable”:
Pitzer said Sales stood up when it was his turn to speak, announced he was pulling out of the race, said state Republicans needed a candidate who would appeal beyond the conservative base, and said that the Legislature is in trouble right now because Gianforte lost the gubernatorial race.
‘Without naming Gianforte, Sales said that the governor candidate didn’t listen to the people and that going forward they needed to nominate someone who was electable,’ Pitzer said.
That Sales, a very conservative legislator, would urge the GOP to look beyond its right-wing base is especially telling. There is a growing and palpable fear within Republican circles that if Gianforte receives the nomination, and in the face of escalating leftist activism (#TheResistance), Democrats will add one more vote in Congress to obstruct President Trump. If winning only conservative votes was not enough in November — with Trump to support and Hillary to reject at the top of the ticket — why would this strategy work for Republicans now, particularly against an emboldened, community-organizing left in a possible mail-only election?
Gianforte partisans tout his high name ID and his (self-)funding capabilities, but such arguments refute themselves. Over the course of his campaign for governor, Gianforte did reach Montana voters. He spent millions on TV ads, and he campaigned aggressively. According to his Twitter feed, he logged 64,000 miles on the road and was ubiquitous up through Election Day, visiting every pocket of the state, some places many times.
We've now driven over 64,000 miles! https://t.co/RlfOlPSuYP
— Greg Gianforte (@GregForMontana) November 7, 2016
In other words, Gianforte placed himself in front of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of voters, and in a “change” election where Republicans otherwise swept, Montanans still rejected him. To many, there was something inexplicably off-putting about Gianforte. He just didn’t connect with voters. That’s not the type of name ID Republicans should want, and it’s not the kind of problem more money can solve.
So, what’s changed? Most notably, and now that it is politically convenient for him to do so, Gianforte has cozied up to President Trump, who won Montana by 20 points. One major criterion of the GOP Central Committee is selecting the candidate who can best support the Trump agenda while in Congress. Tom Lutey’s February 28 article in the Billings Gazette provides context of who that might be:
Like Miller, there’s little evidence Gianforte was on the Trump train last spring.
The high-tech entrepreneur-turned-candidate didn’t identify Trump or the Republican Party last May when acknowledging Trump’s campaign event in Billings, which Gianforte didn’t attend.
Fast forward to March 1 and witness Gianforte, in the fashion of a typical office-seeking politician, now cozying up to Zinke and opportunistically guzzling the Trump Kool-Aid:
Congratulations to Secretary Ryan Zinke. Make America Great Again and make Montana proud!
— Greg Gianforte (@gianforte) March 1, 2017
In contrast, Buttrey not only showed the resolve to mention and endorse Trump by name, but he was the only U.S. House candidate to donate to the Trump campaign:
A look at federal election data shows only one would-be Republican U.S. House candidate donating to Trump, state Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls. A moderate Republican, Buttrey is considered by many to have an outside shot at the nomination.
But Buttrey was an early Trump supporter. He donated $2,700 to Trump’s campaign. And along with Rep. Zinke, he was the first Republican office holder to endorse Trump publicly. When Trump rallied supporters in Billings, Buttrey attended as a VIP and got to visit with Trump the candidate.
And then there’s this. We stumbled across a photo essay of Trump’s inauguration by Salon’s Peter Cooper. It includes images and interviews from folks across the political spectrum, and of all the people in Washington, D.C, Cooper just happened to bump into into Ed Buttrey:
“It’s quite energetic on both sides. You have people that really feel like the country needed to head down a different…
We didn’t see any self-promoting fanfare or carefully crafted, “Look at me” social media releases from Buttrey — just a Montana guy showing up to support the incoming President. (Buttrey, it warrants mentioning, attended as a guest of then-Rep. Zinke.) Who is more authentic, then? And who, really, is better suited to work with the Trump administration in Congress? The politician who was too chickensh*t to even say Trump’s name, or the experienced legislator who wrote a check to Trump, publicly endorsed him and showed up to last June’s campaign rally in Billings, and to the inauguration? (It is amazing, incidentally, even after committing total support to Trump, that some Gianforte backers still dishonestly label Buttrey as a “Democrat.”)
In two days, about 200 GOP state delegates will descend upon Helena to select a nominee to replace Ryan Zinke. Republicans will tap either the failed Gianforte, or the only available Zinke/Trump amalgam, Ed Buttrey. We hope the electors consider the words of Sen. Sales, and moreover, the mood of the public, as Buttrey explains to the Gazette:
‘I believe I fit the mold of what the electors stated loud and clear in the last election that they want for their representative. I am a Zinke/Trump-type candidate, one that is willing to listen to all sides, to hear all arguments, and consider all opinions,’ Buttrey said. ‘I am conservative in my decision making, but also am humble enough to know that I am not always right on all issues and that the best leader is willing to know when they need help, need advice and need to consider alternate opinions before making a decision.’