Maybe — just maaayyyybeee — this isn’t the best week for Donald Trump to be making light of violence against reporters. While his administration struggles to find a way to deal with the Saudis after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump spent yesterday stumping in Montana for Republican midterm candidates. He offered specific praise for Rep. Greg Gianforte, who got convicted for assaulting a reporter during his special-election campaign last year, for his “body slam” technique.
Even Trump seemed to realize at one point that this might be unwise. “I shouldn’t be saying this,” he said, and went on to joke about it anyway:
At Montana rally, Pres. Trump praises Greg Gianforte, who made national headlines during the GOP primaries for assaulting a reporter.
— ABC News (@ABC) October 19, 2018
The remarks from Trump at a campaign rally — staged at an airport hangar here with a mountainous backdrop — drew boisterous cheers from the conservative crowd, who applauded as Trump noted of Gianforte: “By the way, never wrestle him.”
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said.
Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, an altercation that occurred in the final days of Gianforte’s special election race in May 2017 when Jacobs tried to interview him about the GOP health-care plan. The then-candidate grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground and punched him. Gianforte subsequently won the special election, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a six-month deferred sentence.
Trump had referenced the assault during a campaign swing in Billings, Mont., in September, noting in almost a winking manner to the crowd that Gianforte “has fought — in more ways than one — for your state.”
Classy. Gianforte ended up issuing a public apology and getting the aforementioned deferred sentence, but he won his election anyway. Other Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, had insisted on the apology. For everyone else, the Gianforte incident was an embarrassment, not a point of pride. Perhaps in a political vacuum, it might have made for a subject of self-deprecating humor, but with Khashoggi’s murder dominating the headlines and lots of questions as to how tough Trump will get with the Saudis over it, the timing is unhelpful — at the very least.
It’s bad timing in another sense, too. The GOP has rightfully highlighted rising political violence in the midterms, most if not all directed at Republicans and conservatives, and enfolded it into their messaging. Trump himself mentioned it during rallies this week, using the clever quip, “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.” Giving Gianforte a back slap for attacking a reporter isn’t exactly on message here. Why can’t we just say, “Political violence is bad, full stop,” and leave it at that?
Next time Trump thinks, “I shouldn’t say this,” let’s hope he runs with his first instincts.