Apparently, unprovoked violence is not enough to keep Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s U.S. House of Representatives seat from being filled by another Republican. Town Hall reports that businessman and Republican candidate Greg Gianforte won the Montana special election, despite the “body slam” said to have taken place Wednesday. Mr. Gianforte allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs without any more provocation than a question about the new health care bill. The Fox News reporter who witnessed the attack described it as follows:
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Mr. Gianforte was charged with a misdemeanor assault and must appear in court June 7. The election results came as a shock to many, but perhaps they shouldn’t have. Not only does Montana lean very heavily on the Republican side – President Trump took the state by twenty points – but thanks to their high early voting turnout, over half the votes were cast before the altercation.
Mr. Gianforte remained mostly silent on the allegations until after election results were reported. However, once his win was official, Mr. Gianforte apologized to Mr. Jacobs. Politico reports:
“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” he said at a victory party in Bozeman, Montana. “That’s the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I am sorry.”
“I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs,” he said.
The report later continues:
Gianforte stressed to his supporters that his recent behavior would not be reflected in his upcoming work in Washington.
“That’s not the person I am, and that’s not the way I’ll lead this state,” he said. “Rest assured, our work is just beginning, but it does begin with me taking responsibility for my own actions.”
Two things should be immediately apparent about this apology. First, the apology itself is not the sort usually heard from a politician. Mr. Gianforte explicitly takes full responsibility for the event and apologizes directly to Mr. Jacobs. He didn’t try to shift blame or lessen what happened, despite the effect it might have on his legal case. Second, the timing of the apology ensured that it had no effect on the election. Mr. Gianforte apparently did not want his personal apology to come off as a move to salvage the election. Once he won the election, there was no reason to apologize to Mr. Jacobs and the people of Montana other than to show that Greg Gianforte will, in fact, take responsibility for his actions. While attacking reporters might not be an attractive trait in a representative, self-accountability certainly is.
While it is unclear what will happen in court, it is unlikely that Mr. Gianforte will face any jail time now that he has been elected. At worst, he’ll likely have a fine. For better or for worse, Montana’s U.S. House seat will now be filled by Greg Gianforte – businessman, Republican, and choke-slam champion.