Mark Sanford on Gianforte and the reporter: Trump has unleashed some demons

Mark Sanford on Gianforte and the reporter: Trump has unleashed some demons

We were destined for some “climate of hate” hot takes pinning Gianforte’s rage-gasm on Trump, especially if Gianforte pulls out a win tonight, but I … did not expect they’d be coming from Republican congressmen. Even one as conspicuously anti-Trump as Sanford.

Alternate theory: Maybe Gianforte just has a nasty temper, as many people unfortunately do, inflamed by 18-hour days on the campaign trail trying to win a race that was supposed to be a pushover for him but hasn’t been? At base, Sanford’s point is the same “hatred in the air” argument that liberals tossed at tea partiers after Gabby Giffords was shot by a lunatic. There are differences — while the left had to resort to blaming Sarah Palin and interpreting symbols on fundraising mailers as potential triggers, Sanford’s citing the president, a person of real cultural influence, and flagging language that really did explicitly target political enemies for violence. Even so, the Gianforte incident is shocking because it’s unusual. Candidates don’t behave this way, even in the age of Trump; Trump hasn’t behaved this way, despite his endless kabuki theater about hating the media. It’s a strange “climate” that affects so few people. Which is why the “climate of hate” takes won’t really begin in earnest until tomorrow, if Gianforte wins the election. That’ll be treated as Republicans in Montana ratifying his behavior en masse even though something like 70 percent of voters cast their ballots early.

Question: If Trump has normalized behavior like this, why did Team Gianforte rush out a whitewash account of what happened that made it sound like he was merely defending himself from the reporter and was dragged to the ground as the reporter fell? Gianforte’s spin is proof that he doesn’t think “if the president of the United States can say anything to anyone at any time then I guess I can too.” You can hate candidate Trump’s loathsome wink-wink incitements to violence at rallies last year without blaming him every time some guy snaps, which is what it sounds like happened to Gianforte yesterday. Not calculation, not grandstanding for the benefit of media-hating Republican voters. He snapped, and he was sufficiently embarrassed about it afterward to have tried in a half-assed way to cover it up.

For many Trump critics, though, there’s no holding back. The dots are too easy to connect. The next 24 hours will be even more tedious than usual.

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