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'Body Slam' of Reporter Is Another Sign of America's Broken Politics

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Greg Gianforte Campaigns In Missoula
Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte talks with supporters during a campaign meet and greet at Lambros Real Estate on May 24, 2017 in Missoula, Montana.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

“Body slam” of reporter is another sign of America’s broken politics

If you thought our politics couldn’t get any worse, just look at what happened on the eve of today’s special congressional election in Montana. “A Montana sheriff has issued a citation for misdemeanor assault against Republican U.S. House candidate Greg Gianforte after a newspaper reporter said the politician ‘body slammed’ him, an account that was backed up by witnesses,” per NBC News. Before Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault, his campaign blamed the reporter, Ben Jacobs of the Guardian, for the incident. "[A]s Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions… It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.” And according to MSNBC’s Garrett Haake, a GOP strategist endorsed that strategy to blame the press.

What is wrong with our politics? It’s shameful that ANYONE considers this good strategy. Also in this current state of politics — where winning is everything — there is notable silence from the Republican Party. A little bit more of our democracy was weakened last night. As the saying goes, you get the politicians you deserve. Question: Don’t we deserve better than this?

How did last night affect this race? We just don’t know

The other question on everyone’s minds: How does last night’s incident affect this competitive race, where the consensus had been that Gianforte is the favorite but that Democrat Rob Quist has a realistic shot at an upset? About two-thirds of the vote is already in, and those people can’t change their vote. But remember, early voters are typically your most committed partisans; day-of voters are usually more persuadable. So the incident could matter. Or it might not. Polls in Montana close at 10:00 pm ET.

Democrats now find themselves in a lose-lose position

Oddly, last night’s incident in Montana has turned into a potential nightmare for Democrats. Think about it: If they win, Republicans and many observers will chalk it up to Gianforte’s behavior and flaws. And if Democrats come up short — which is still a realistic possibility — people are going to say: “Democrats couldn’t triumph in a competitive race where the opponent is charged with misdemeanor assault before an election!!!!” Sure, Gianforte winning will eventually be a headache for Republicans once he comes to Washington. But right now, the pressure is on the Democrats, and it puts even more pressure on the June 20 runoff in Georgia. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was already one of the losers before last night (their GOP counterparts had invested much more in the race). And when you wait too long to play, you sometimes don’t find yourself in a great position to take credit if you win.

Advice: Don’t focus just on one special election. Look at them collectively

Of course, before last night, the Montana congressional election was viewed more — fairly or not — as a referendum on President Trump and the current political climate. And while last night’s incident complicates that kind of narrative, do pay attention to the advice from the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman: Look at the special elections COLLECTIVELY to determine what the political environment currently looks like. And so here are the competitive special elections compared to past performance:

  • GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38%
  • GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47%
  • GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): John Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
  • KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30%
  • KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33%
  • KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46%
  • MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40%
  • MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36%
  • MT-AL in 2017: ???

Bottom line: Democrats are outperforming where they were in 2016, and Republicans are underperforming. We’ll wait to see if that trend continues tonight — with the obvious caveat about last night’s incident.

About that CBO score

The question that Ben Jacobs was asking Gianforte last night? It was about yesterday’s Congressional Budget Office score of the House GOP health-care bill. NBC’s Benjy Sarlin sums up the CBO report. “The GOP health care bill would insure 23 million fewer people than current law after a decade, while potentially impacting many with pre-existing conditions, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The bill would spend $1.1 trillion less on health care and use the savings primarily to finance large tax cuts for high-income earners and medical companies. While some Americans would see lower premiums, CBO concluded that many people with pre-existing conditions would no longer be able to afford insurance and that many who received coverage would pay thousands of dollars more in out-of-pocket expenses.”