Many years ago, before starting a career in journalism, I did some speechwriting for candidates. At the time, I learned how painful it can be to carefully craft a very specific message, only to have a client decide he can go his own way with an unfortunate message of his own.
With this in mind, late Friday, I felt the pain of Sen. Steve Daines' (R-Mont.) communications staffers.
The Montana senator joined a group of other Senate Republicans for some photo-ops at the U.S./Mexico border late last week, which included a press conference in which one GOP senator after another echoed the party's anti-Biden talking points.
But unlike his colleagues, when it was his turn at the microphone, Daines adopted a strange line, expressing a degree of drug-related nostalgia. The Daily Beast noted:
Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) flubbed a talking point about the increasing strength and lethality of drugs trafficked into the United States Friday, seeming to wax poetic about days of yore when Americans made their own methamphetamine. During a visit to the southern border alongside other Senate Republicans, Daines said, "There is a flood of Mexican meth, Mexican heroin, Mexican fentanyl. Twenty years ago in Montana, meth was homemade. It was homegrown. And you had purity levels less than 30 percent. Today the meth that is getting into Montana is Mexican cartel."
I may be reading into his body language, but watching the clip of the Montanan's comments, it seemed Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), seen on the right side of the video, was stifling a laugh while Daines was making his pitch.
Regardless, while it was tempting to assume the Republican somehow got ahead of himself, pushing a line he hadn't fully thought through, Slate noted that Daines made a similar point to CBS affiliate KTQV before his trip to the border, arguing, "We are seeing a flood of Mexican heroin, Mexican meth, and Mexican fentanyl coming into Montana. The purity level that these Mexican cartels with methamphetamine is close to 90 percent. Years ago, it was homemade meth in Montana that had purity levels of less than 30 percent."
In other words, this wasn't exactly a rhetorical mistake. It's the message the senator wanted the public to hear.
To be sure, drug trafficking is a serious issue, on which policymakers should focus attention. The trouble is, the Montana Republican seemed to pine for the days when his home state had a "homegrown" meth market, featuring "homegrown" drugs, before Mexican cartels messed everything up.
We've all heard the "immigrants are taking our jobs" mantra over the course of many generations, but it's rare to hear a modern politician apply the line to the methamphetamine industry.
Steve Daines' 2026 re-election ads are bound to be interesting: "Vote Daines: He's for bringing good meth-making jobs back to Montana."