GOP Senate race challenges establishment

Montana Democrats have put out an ad criticizing Matt Rosendale’s accent.

Because I am a great American, I listened to two recent debates between Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate. You can hear them here and here.

To be honest, I’m not that great an American. I skipped over a few of the more obvious questions. I figured if anybody said something crazy, the mainstream media would pick that up.

To be even more honest, I’m a deplorable American. I almost skipped the whole show. After listening to the first few minutes, I was so disgusted by the entire process that I shut down the internet.


David Crisp

Not long afterward, I was bent over the toilet, sick to my stomach. Just to be clear, I in no way blame Republicans for my illness. But if they are going to keep this up, they need to come up with a better healthcare plan.

It wasn’t really the debates that made me queasy. I’m still getting over the 2016 election. Do we really need another one so soon?

Also, I had seen Troy Downing’s infantile ad attacking Jon Tester as a trumpet-playing, tractor-riding music teacher. Why combat experience is a better qualification than music teaching for holding public office remains a mystery. It didn’t work out so great for Hitler.

I also had caught the story that a Republican-linked company may have paid to gather signatures to put the Green Party on the ballot in hopes of diluting the Democratic vote. My son-in-law, who was paid by an out-of-state firm to collect Green Party signatures, was unperturbed at the thought that he might have been secretly paid by Republicans. If he could cost the Republican Party money while helping the Green Party, he was OK with that.

Then, just to provide a touch of bipartisan chicanery, Montana Democrats put out an ad mocking Republican Senate candidate Matt Rosendale for his Maryland accent. Rosendale has held public office in Montana since 2010. Speaking as one of hundreds of thousands of loyal Montanans who weren’t born here, I ask Democrats: What makes us unworthy?

After a troubled night’s sleep and a bowl of Ramen, I gathered the strength to finally listen to (most of) the debates. And guess what? It wasn’t so bad.

Some observers complained that the debates were boring because you could not slip a piece of paper between most of the candidates’ positions. They all love guns and hate abortion. They worship God and the Second Amendment, not necessarily in that order. They like tax cuts and hate deficits and remain firmly certain that the former aren’t to blame for the latter.

It struck me that the race presents an appealing contrast between the traditional establishment and the upstart flame-throwing wings of the Republican Party.

On the establishment side are Al Olszewski, a former Air Force physician and now a state legislator from Kalispell, and Russ Fagg, who said he presided over 25,000 cases as a district judge in Billings.

Olszewski, an admitted dark horse, said he offers the best of all worlds: a native Montanan with military and legislative experience and solid conservative credentials. Fagg, who has rounded up a bag of endorsements from prominent Montana Republicans, sounded a lot like he hadn’t quite shed his judge’s robes.

He wasn’t sure what he thought about the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofit organizations, including churches, from making political endorsements. He also had a more nuanced view than other candidates on issues that affected him personally.

He said he would not vote for any military intervention that he wouldn’t be willing to send his own 20-year-old twins into. And he said that when his mother was dying of cancer at age 80, doctors told the family that she might live three months without extraordinary care and six months with it.

Fagg said he had favored keeping her comfortable without prolonging her suffering for a few more months. But his father wanted the best care, which cost about $200,000 for another three months of painful life. The anecdote says a lot about why U.S. medical care is so expensive, and it has nothing to do with Obamacare.

Fagg also had an original idea when he suggested during a discussion on immigration that lawmakers should be sent home. Then he ruined it by saying he really meant “law breakers.”

Troy Downing and Rosendale sounded more, well, Trumpian. Rosendale said that one of Donald Trump’s three main goals as president is to “preserve culture.” He didn’t specify what part of the Constitution makes that the president’s job.

Downing said, “The Second Amendment is not about hunting, and it’s not about target practice. The Second Amendment is about your God-given right to protect yourself and to stand up against tyranny.” He didn’t specify what part of the Bible endorsed assault rifles.

In what may turn out to be the only issue that really matters, all four candidates were supportive of President Trump, or at least of his agenda. Or at least of most of his agenda. Fagg expressed concerns about a trade war, and nobody liked the omnibus budget bill that Trump signed.

Nobody talked about Trump’s insulting tweets, his many misstatements, his serial adulteries or his possible Russian contacts. That may get them through the primary, but the questions will be unavoidable during the general election.

Downing, for instance, once tweeted that Trump was “either a liar or an idiot.” Now he says, “I really believe Donald Trump loves this nation.” All three of those things could be true, but they don’t add up to a great campaign message.

It may not help that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has put out an ad linking Tester to some of the dumber things Hillary Clinton said in her presidential campaign.

“Hillary Clinton, Jon Tester and the Democratic Party share the same elitist disdain towards the needs of hardworking Montanans,” said NRSC Spokesman Calvin Moore.

No doubt many words will be used in this campaign to describe Tester, but “elitist” is one least likely to stick. And if it’s fair to tie the worst things Clinton said to Tester, it’s fair to tie the worst things Trump has said to the Republican Senate candidate.

Downing and Rosendale didn’t make it much better. Downing said, “Jon Tester has never created a job, never run a business, and he’s never been to war.”

Montana farmers will no doubt be pleased to hear that they know nothing of business, and Tester’s famous missing fingers honorably precluded military service.

Rosendale said that once he defeats Tester, “No longer will we have Obamacare for us, special care for him and no care for veterans.”

In his own campaign, Tester had remained relentlessly positive, focusing on bills he has passed to help, yep, veterans. Attacking Tester at his strongest point is like Burnside ordering uphill frontal attacks against entrenched Confederates at Fredericksburg.

The resulting slaughter caused Gen. Robert E. Lee to remark, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Perhaps the same is true of politics.

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