Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte looks on during a campaign meet and greet at Lambros Real Estate on May 24, 2017 in Missoula, Montana. 
Justin Sullivan

Republican candidate faces assault charge on eve of Montana election

Politics may have a reputation for being a rough-and-tumble business – “politics ain’t beanbag” endures as a cliché for a reason – but at least in the United States, physical altercations and violence is exceedingly rare.

Three years ago, for example, then-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) made headlines for threatening to kill a reporter who bothered him, which seemed shocking enough, even though the GOP congressman never actually touched the journalist.

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.
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.
As Rachel noted on last night’s show, the latest developments in Montana are altogether different.
A Montana sheriff has issued a citation for misdemeanor assault against Republican U.S. House candidate Greg Gianforte after a newspaper reporter said the politician “body slammed” him, an account that was backed up by witnesses.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said Gianforte was issued a citation Wednesday night. The incident occurred on the eve of Thursday’s special election in which Gianforte faces a Democratic opponent for the state’s open House seat.

Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs was covering an event in Bozeman and tweeted the encounter at about 7 p.m. ET.
Not long after police arrived on the scene, the Gianforte campaign issued a written statement, insisting that it was the reporter who instigated the confrontation with “aggressive” behavior, and it was the candidate who’d been assaulted by Jacobs. An audio recording of the incident made clear that this account was not true.

In other words, Gianforte not only sent a reporter to the hospital, the Republican’s campaign was then caught lying about it.

Montana’s three largest newspapers had already endorsed Gianforte’s candidacy – a point of pride that the GOP candidate has emphasized in his advertising – but this morning, each of the papers’ editorial boards rescinded those endorsements. The Billings Gazette’s piece was especially notable: “If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn’t accept it from a man who is running to become Montana’s lone Congressional representative. We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.”

As for what happens now, Gianforte will have to deal with the assault charge; Jacobs has been released from the hospital following some x-rays; and the voters in this red state will have to consider whether to send the Republican to Congress anyway.

Because the state of American politics has become ridiculous, there was considerable speculation overnight about whether Gianforte’s campaign may benefit from becoming violent with a journalist – because so many Republican voters have been conditioned to believe the American press is an enemy that deserves to be literally and physically attacked.

If Gianforte is rewarded for his assault – and for lying about it – the resulting incentives carry severe consequences. We’re watching a national dynamic unfold in which some in American politics are creating genuinely dangerous conditions, not just for individual journalists, but for the body politic.