After thumping Rob Quist in Montana’s special election last night, the newly elected Congressman turned to a more literal beating. “When you make a mistake,” Greg Gianforte said last night during his victory speech, “you have to own up to it.” Gianforte then apologized to the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs and the Fox News team that witnessed his assault, and to the voters as well:

“Last night, I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back,” Gianforte said in front of a crowd in Bozeman. “I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that, I am sorry.” At that point, someone in the audience yelled, “You are forgiven,” which resulted in some cheers of agreement. Gianforte shushed the crowd and continued, “I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that, I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”

Gianforte appears genuinely remorseful, and this is notably not one of the political world’s usual non-apology apologies. He could have said, “I’m sorry that an unfortunate incident last night distracted Montana from this election,” for instance, a statement that would have admitted nothing. Instead, Gianforte admits his “mistake” in his “action,” and offered an explicit apology directly to Jacobs.

Perhaps this comes across as even more genuine than it might otherwise have simply because Gianforte didn’t pay a price at the ballot box for the incident. It wasn’t necessary to issue an abject apology — he’d already won, and an admission of guilt might complicate his legal status. The latter was the most rational of the objections to Paul Ryan’s call for Gianforte to immediately apologize the next morning. Instead of keeping quiet to protect himself, Gianforte owned up to it. That doesn’t let him off the hook for his assault on a reporter, but it does show that he’s accountable for it, and that should be taken into consideration along with his actions.

RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel hailed the apology as a first step:

“Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte was right to apologize for his actions in Wednesday’s statement,” Romney McDaniel said in a statement Thursday. “Tonight’s apology was a good first step toward redemption and I hope Gianforte continues to work toward righting his wrong.”

McDaniel added that Montana voters “chose to send a conservative to Washington” in Thursday’s vote to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is now serving as Interior secretary.

“Once again, voters responded to President Trump’s call to protect the hard work this administration has done to reform a burdensome tax code, cut onerous regulations and relieve hardworking taxpayers across the country from the rising costs of ObamaCare.”

Gianforte will get an opportunity to “work toward righting this wrong” when he appears in court for his misdemeanor summons on June 7th, unless he arranges a new date. He could face jail time but is more likely to face a fine, especially if this is his first offense and he doesn’t force witnesses to come back by contesting it. Gianforte could arrange to replace Jacobs’ broken glasses as part of his penalty, or just because it’s also the right thing to do. At least Gianforte made the first step, and now Montana voters should make sure he completes the follow-through.