BILLINGS – President Donald Trump is standing by the comments he made at a campaign rally in Missoula supporting the assault on a reporter by Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte in May 2017.
Friday, while at a rally in Scottsdale, Ariz., Trump doubled down on his comments made the previous day in an interview with a group of reporters. The clip appeared on CNN.
“No, that was a different world, and he’s a tough cookie, and I will stay with that,” Trump, also a Republican, said to reporters.
It all stems from the Thursday evening rally at the Missoula International Airport, where Trump praised Gianforte for the assault on the eve of his election last year in Bozeman.
Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, three weeks after the attack on Ben Jacobs, a reporter with the Guardian. He was sentenced to community service, 20 hours of anger management classes and required to pay a $385 fine.
“Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my guy,” Trump said to a crowd of supporters at the Minuteman Aviation jet hangar.
After Thursday’s comments, a Guardian editor said in the wake of the possible murder of a Saudi journalist, the President’s statement runs the risk of inviting other assaults.
Gianforte’s campaign declined Friday to comment beyond a statement previously given to MTN’s Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison that Gianforte regrets the assault and has taken responsibility.
“This has been widely covered, he’s moved on, and since Montanans elected him, he’s been delivering results for Montana – a booming economy, safer communities, and a more secure America,” a spokesman said Friday.
Gianforte’s opponent, Democrat Kathleen Williams, though did take the opportunity to boost her own campaign with a lengthy statement in response.
“Gianforte has a history of attacking people, whether physically or by undermining their livelihoods. Gianforte does not represent Montana’s values,” Williams campaign said.
Williams’ statement goes on to point out that in less than two years, Gianforte added to the national deficit, co-sponsored legislation that would outlaw most forms of birth control and failed to support the Journalist Protection Act, despite his assault conviction on Ben Jacobs.
Voters are now wondering if Trump’s comments about violence on journalists help or hinder Gianforte’s mission to keep his seat in Congress.
Montana State University-Billings political science professor, Dr. Paul Pope, said Trump is making light of an assault on a journalist during a time when violence against journalists is already at a high.
“Trump being flippant about a violent criminal assault of a journalist by Gianforte during the 2016 election, and that kind of attitude is promoting more violence against journalists,” said Pope.
Still, Pope said it’s still hard to say if the comment will impact Gianforte’s race. It could definitely help Williams, he added..
“We are so close. We won’t know for sure until after the election night if it could definitely help her,” he said.
Still, Pope believes Trump is good at igniting his base, but if anyone in Montana is undecided this could impact their votes, said Pope.
“It’s those fence sitters, those people that haven’t completely decided how they are going to vote. Those are maybe the ones negatively affected on this kind of comment,” said Pope.
The Thursday night Missoula rally was Trump’s third visit to Montana as president. All three visits have come this year to support Republican Matt Rosendale, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News