Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters during a campaign meet and greet at Lions Park on May 23, 2017 in Great Falls, Montana.
Justin Sullivan

Montana’s Gianforte draws mild GOP rebukes following violent incident

The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/24/17, 9:19 PM ET

MT GOP candidate Gianforte allegedly 'body slams' reporter

Rachel Maddow reports on the claim by Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs (and mounting evidence) that Republican special election congressional candidate Greg Gianforte “body slammed” Jacobs after being asked a question.
It seems a little too easy to under-react to last night’s developments in Montana. On the eve of the state’s congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte, who said he’d take a position on his party’s health care plan once a CBO score was available, was approached by a reporter to ask for his stance. The candidate appears to have assaulted that reporter, sending him to the hospital.

Gianforte’s campaign was then caught lying about the incident, making claims that were clearly contradicted by an audio recording of what transpired.

NBC News’ First Read team wrote this morning, “What is wrong with our politics? It’s shameful that ANYONE considers this good strategy. Also in this current state of politics – where winning is everything – there is notable silence from the Republican Party. A little bit more of our democracy was weakened last night…. Don’t we deserve better than this?”

While GOP officials had very little to say last night as the story unfolded, we started hearing some comments this morning. Most of reactions fall into the “violence is wrong, but…” category.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for example, was quoted by the Associated Press saying, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) denounced violence, but said “the left” has “precipitated this tense, confrontational approach” nationwide. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went further, but even his concerns came with a caveat.
“I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana,” Ryan said during a press conference in Washington.

“There is no time when a physical altercation should occur with the press and just between human beings. So that is wrong and it just should not have happened…. I think he should apologize.”
It’s the “but the choice will be made by the people of Montana” part of the answer that stood out for me.

We’re looking at a dynamic in which a candidate for federal office may allegedly assault a journalist, lie about it, face a criminal charge, win the election, and take office. The political consequences of this behavior would simply not exist.

Indeed, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told NBC News that if Gianforte wins the race today, “of course” he’d be “welcome” in the House Republican conference.

In other words, when pressed, GOP officials will denounce acts of violence against the free press, but they’re not prepared to reject those who stand accused of committing those acts.

Postscript: Gianforte had scheduled on-air interviews with Fox News and MSNBC this afternoon. Both interviews were subsequently canceled.

Montana, Paul Ryan and Trent Franks

Montana's Gianforte draws mild GOP rebukes following violent incident