Last Thursday, Montana held a special election to fill its sole seat in the House of Representatives (because its prior representative, Ryan Zinke, left to become Secretary of the Interior). The top candidates for the position were Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist.
Going into the election, pro-life organizations had a lot of reasons to like Gianforte. As the Susan B. Anthony List pointed out, “Greg and his wife Susan are both pro-life champions who have long supported Montana’s network of pregnancy resources centers serving mothers in need.” His pro-life commitment wasn’t just talk. In stark contrast, Quist took the extremist (but today, sadly, standard Democratic) position of supporting abortion on demand, subsidized by taxpayers. The Susan B. Anthony List knocked on more than 31,000 doors, urging voters to elect Gianforte.
And then, the day before the election, Gianforte got into a physical altercation with a reporter. Police investigated the matter and quickly concluded that Gianforte was the aggressor, charging him with misdemeanor assault. The New York Times reports:
Three of the state’s largest newspapers, The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian and The Independent Record, quickly rescinded their endorsements of Mr. Gianforte. But prospects that the altercation could tip the race to the Democrat, Rob Quist, were complicated by Montana’s early-voting tradition: Over half the estimated total ballots in the contest had been returned by Wednesday.
Unlike the newspapers, pro-life groups did not rescind their endorsements. And when Gianforte won the election as predicted, they issued standard celebratory press releases containing no comment on the assault charge. In response to the National Right to Life Committee’s tweet congratulating Gianforte on his win, professor and author Charlie Camosy (who is pro-life) quipped, “Hey @NRLC, I think @NARAL has hacked your account. Better change your password.” He certainly was not the only one to comment on the bad optics of the situation.
But what was the alternative? NRLC, the Susan B. Anthony List, and others had already done the vast majority of their work for Gianforte during the early voting period. Seventy percent of ballots had already been cast. Neither pro-life groups nor voters could have foreseen what would happen. And when the assault occurred, what were pro-life groups supposed to do, encourage people to vote for an abortion advocate? That would have been a disgrace to their mission and a betrayal of preborn children.
Perhaps there’s a middle ground to be found, like: “We are pleased that the people of Montana rejected Rob Quist’s extreme pro-abortion stance. At the same time, we acknowledge that Congressman Gianforte’s alleged violent conduct on the eve of his election is disturbing and inexcusable. The pro-life movement rejects violence against people of all ages, and in the event that Congressman Gianforte is convicted and removed from office, we will work to replace him with a peaceful pro-life advocate.”
But my cynical side says that the days of such political nuance are behind us. After all, the above statement wouldn’t fit in a tweet. And given the public relations nightmare currently occupying the White House, maybe we should just count our blessings that Greg Gianforte didn’t grab anyone by the pussy.