Physically assaulting a reporter is no big thing if it means holding on to political power, according to public statements from multiple Republicans.
These men have gone on record to minimize the behavior of Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, who according to multiple eyewitnesses and an audio recording, physically attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by bodyslamming him.
Instead of being decent and rebuking Gianforte for his actions, Republicans are fully embracing Donald Trump’s hostile and authoritarian approach to a free press that openly questions candidates for office. And if Gianforte wins Thursday’s special election, they are happy to embrace him too.
Speaker Paul Ryan condemned the assault, but in a rather Trumpian move of dehumanizing the press, he was sure to make a distinction between the press and “human beings”:
Ryan: “There’s never a call for physical altercations … with the press or just between human beings.” Gianforte “should apologize.”
— Sarah Mimms (@SarahMMimms) May 25, 2017
Asked whether Ryan would welcome Gianforte into his conference if he wins, Ryan tried to dodge the question by claiming it was up to Montana voters, but ultimately confirmed that he would:
REPORTER: If he wins will you seat him?
RYAN: If he wins, he has been chosen by the Montana – the people of Montana who their Congress is going to be. I’m going to let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative. That’s not our choice, that’s the people of Montana who choose that. […]
REPORTER: You have the choice, whether he’s a part of your conference, that is a choice that you guys are going to make to accept him or not. Is that something, is this the kind of behavior –
RYAN: The choice will be made by the people of Montana, I do not think this is acceptable behavior but the choice will be made by the people of Montana.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), head of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement defending Gianforte’s behavior as “totally out of character” and characterized the assault as simply a mistake. He went on to say the election was “bigger than any one person,” but about the views of “all Montanans.”
Despite Gianforte being charged with assault, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said he would be welcomed into the Republican conference if he wins.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) made a joke about the assault, telling reporters, “We didn’t have a course on body slamming when I went to school, I missed that course. I’m sorry I missed it.”
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), echoing the ridiculous statement from Gianforte’s campaign Wednesday night, saw “the left” as the assailant, bemoaning the “tense, confrontational approach” that “the left” has purportedly pushed “throughout the country.”
Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) dismissed the assault by noting, “When you run for office, there’s a lot of tension,” adding, “It’s kind of game time, you know?” He also noted that friction between reporters and journalists “creates sometimes unneeded energy.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) was unequivocal, describing Gianforte as a “good guy.” When directly asked about Gianforte committing assault, Grothman said, “We need somebody who’s going to come up here and help drain the swamp.”
When assaulting a reporter gets the green light from congressional Republicans, as long as they can maintain their majority, it appears nothing is beyond the pale for this party. But then, given their continued support of Trump, that should not be a surprise to anyone.