President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both congratulated the newly elected Republican congressman from Montana who was charged Thursday with a brutal and unprovoked physical attack on a reporter.
Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte won the special election to the fill the seat of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Thursday night, just a day after he allegedly grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and body slammed him to the floor for asking questions about the GOP’s health care bill.
Gianforte’s campaign originally contradicted the reporter’s account of the assault, blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for creating “this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.” Gianfonte’s attack was recorded on audio and witnessed by a full crew from Fox News, which both contradicted Gianforte’s campaign statement.
Pence praised Rep.-elect Gianforte (R) on Twitter for a “great win & gracious speech.”
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) May 26, 2017
Trump, who has repeatedly referred to media outlets that he dubbed the “fake news media” as “the enemy of the American People,” briefly congratulated Gianforte during his trip abroad Friday. “Great win in Montana,” he told news photographers.
Assault charges be damned, Trump is really jazzed about the GOP's 'great win in Montana.' pic.twitter.com/VDtwQorsBn
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) May 26, 2017
The phrase “the enemy of the people” has been used repeatedly by “dictators and autocrats to delegitimize foreign governments, opposition parties, and dissenters,” as Business Insider’s Veronika Bondarenko notes.
While it was featured as the name of a Henrik Ibsen play, its next prominent use was by the Nazis. During the Third Reich’s rule in Germany, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels referred to Jews as “a sworn enemy of the German people” who posed a risk to Adolf Hitler’s vision for the country, according to The Washington Post.
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait reflected back on Trump’s infamous “Fifth Avenue” remark in a piece titled “Greg Gianforte Proves Trump’s Fifth Avenue Principle.”
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” boasted Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. The Fifth Avenue Principle turned out to be the cruelest but also most insightful summation of the psychology of Trump’s fan base. But, as much as Trump would like to imagine the principle applies uniquely to himself and his cultural magnetism to red America, it has more to do with his adorers than the subject of their adoration. The principle was demonstrated aptly enough by newly elected Republican congressman Greg Gianforte.
Against those conservatives aghast at a member of Congress acting like Tony Soprano is a much larger and more influential array of party regulars. Fox & Friends covered the story in a perfunctory and misleading fashion. Sinclair News, an up-and-coming conservative propaganda network that controls a wide array of local news stations, blacked out the story altogether. Talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh swooned over Gianforte’s display of machismo. And evidence suggests the vast majority of the Montana Republican electorate followed the latter.
There is an interesting debate over whether, or to what degree, Trump has legitimized political violence or rough treatment of the media. But what Gianforte clearly shows is the willingness of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement to deny or legitimize any misbehavior, however gross, obvious, and unrelated to conservative principle. And the episode offers a road map to how those same people will continue to follow Trump wherever he takes them. The election of a thug is a dry run for the battles that lie ahead in Trump’s Washington.
At his victory party last night, Gianforte issued a vague apology.
“Last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back,” he said. “And I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way, and for that, I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”