Ryan Zinke’s tenure as Donald Trump’s interior secretary was almost cartoonishly provocative. As regular readers may recall, the Montana Republican came under at least 15 different investigations before resigning under a cloud of controversy. But even after leaving the capital, he was haunted by his record.
In February, the Interior Department’s inspector general concluded that Zinke lied to investigators about his involvement in a Montana land deal and ran afoul of federal ethics rules. In late August, the inspector general’s office released the findings of an entirely separate matter in which Zinke was also found to have knowingly — and “repeatedly” — made false statements to federal investigators.
The problem for the Republican wasn’t just that these findings made him look bad. Complicating matters was that Zinke was on the comeback trail, running for Congress as the public learned the latest details about some of his scandals. Would Montanans elect him anyway?
As a matter of fact, yes. The Associated Press reported:
Republican Ryan Zinke prevailed over his Democratic challenger in the race for a newly-drawn Montana U.S. House district on Tuesday, overcoming early stumbles including a razor-thin victory in the primary. ... Democratic challenger Monica Tranel, an environmental and consumer rights attorney from Missoula, tried to capitalize on the scandals by characterizing him as a “snake” who quit Trump’s cabinet in disgrace.
It was fairly close: With just about all of the votes tallied, NBC News shows Zinke prevailing by roughly 3 percentage points. What’s more, the Republican hasn’t quite reached the 50% threshold.
In other words, Zinke’s scandals hurt his candidacy, but not quite enough to cost him the seat.
As for other former Trump administration officials who were on the ballot on Tuesday, the results were decidedly mixed:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s controversial former press secretary, was easily elected governor in Arkansas.
Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who has faced domestic violence allegations, was easily elected to Congress in Ohio’s 6th District.
Karoline Leavitt, a former Trump White House communications staffer, lost her congressional campaign by nearly 10 points in New Hampshire’s 1st District.
John Gibbs, a former Housing and Urban Development official, was easily defeated in his congressional bid in Michigan’s 3rd District.
Catalina Lauf, a former Commerce Department official, was easily defeated in her congressional bid in Illinois’ 3rd District.
Jim Bognet, a Trump appointee to the Export Import Bank, narrowly lost his congressional campaign in Pennsylvania’s 8th District.
To be sure, this list could be longer. As regular readers may recall, some other former members of the Trump administration ran this year — see Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt and Alabama’s Lindy Blanchard, for example — but fell short in their primary campaigns.
Common sense suggests that being associated with a failed former president — twice impeached and facing multiple criminal investigations — would be a political hindrance. In 2022, some former members of Trump’s team won anyway.