The Slatest

The Most Subtly Infuriating Thing About Trump Praising the Congressman Who Assaulted a Reporter

Trump points while standing in front of a crowd on an outdoor stage at dusk.
Donald Trump in Missoula, Montana, on Thursday. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday night president Donald Trump held another campaign rally at which he said some inappropriate stuff to rile up the libs. This one was in Montana, so Trump’s inappropriate comments concerned local Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty last year to choking and throwing a reporter from the Guardian newspaper to the ground on the night before the special election in which Gianforte was voted into Congress. Trump’s remarks:

Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy. [Cheering] I shouldn’t say that—there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. So I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries talking about all sorts of things and I heard about it. And we endorsed Greg very early, but I heard he body-slammed a reporter. [Cheering] [Applause] And he was way up, and I said, this was like the day of the election, or just before, and I said, oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election. Then I said, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him, and it did. [Applause]

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This is bad because of the creeping fascist thuggery and whatnot, but it also possesses a nice, more subtle underlying note of self-contradicting bullshit. If you go back to the details of Gianforte’s May 24, 2017 attack on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, you’ll see that what set the now-congressman off was that Jacobs was pressing him for an answer on whether he supported House Republicans’ American Health Care Act, an Obamacare repeal bill. Passing such a bill was a longtime goal of Republican “base” voters, but it was unpopular with the general public in large part because it would have eliminated popular Obamacare provisions such as the requirement that insurers cover “pre-existing” medical conditions. The bill had passed the House in early May, but Gianforte had avoided commenting on it one way or the other by saying he needed to wait until the Congressional Budget Office evaluated it. On May 24, the day before the Montana special election, the CBO released a “score” of the bill that predicted that it would indeed cause many people with pre-existing conditions to lose coverage.

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Jacobs was attempting to ask Gianforte about that specific CBO score when he was attacked. Gianforte was in a bind: He knew he’d feel intense pressure from Republicans to support the bill if he were elected—nearly every Republican in the House and Senate ultimately voted for repeal in some form—but he didn’t want to admit that he would vote to screw over voters who have chronic medical conditions. When a pesky reporter pressed him on the issue, he snapped.

Cut to October 2018. Over the course of the past two years, nearly every elected Republican in the country has attempted in some way to eliminate Obamacare’s popular coverage guarantees, and Democrats everywhere are attempting to make such efforts the defining issues of the midterms. The Republican response to this has simply been to insist, against all evidence, that the party in fact strongly supports such protections, an effort that reached its apotheosis Thursday with this phenomenally non-factual Trump declaration:

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Then he went to Montana and laughed about how Gianforte tried to beat a guy up for asking him whether he supported protections for pre-existing conditions.

And, by the way: Last May, while Gianforte was publicly refusing to comment on whether he supported the repeal bill, he told D.C. lobbyists in a private phone call that he was glad it had passed. Good stuff.

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