Many Republicans are criticizing Greg Gianforte, their candidate for a Montana congressional seat, who literally body-slammed a reporter Wednesday night, the eve of the election.
Democrats, meanwhile, are tying the candidate and his actions to President Trump, who has long railed against the press and even called them an enemy of the American people.
David Jolly, a former Republican Congressman from Pinellas, a longtime Trump critic, is siding with the Dems on this one.
On Thursday afternoon, he told CNN's Brooke Baldwin that a Republican congressional candidate assaulting a reporter is an obvious symptom of Trumpism — one of the few things on which he can agree with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Welcome to Donald Trump's America,” said Jolly, who represented Florida's 13th Congressional seat from 2014, but was unseated by former Governor Charlie Crist in 2016.
Wednesday's altercation took place after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked Gianforte what he thought of the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the AHCA, the Republicans' Obamacare replacement (which was not good). Although Gianforte's people accused the reporter of instigating and of just generally being liberal media scum or whatever, eyewitnesses (including someone from Fox News, of all outlets) corroborated Jacobs' account.
Such disdain for members of the media seems rooted in Trumpism. From his routine hurling of insults at the press corral during his campaign rallies to his threat to end daily press briefings, he has consistently demonstrated that he is incapable of tolerating being questioned. He accuses anyone who covers him unflatteringly of lying, and his supporters have adopted a similar attitude about the press in general.
“There is a segment of society that's listening to the president. He's giving these dog whistles and they're following it. On Twitter, the Twitter trolls have taken over,” said April Ryan, who covers the White House for American Urban Radio Networks and is a CNN contributor.
Ryan herself was a target of Trump or his press secretary Sean Spicer on at least two occasions: when Trump asked Ryan, who is black, to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus since she "knows" them, and when Spicer told her to "stop shaking your head" as she was trying to get him to answer a question. In the wake of coverage of the latter incident, she said, she was on the receiving end of serious harassment.
“Just for shaking my head allegedly, which Sean Spicer said I did, I got a death threat,” she said. “This is real. It is not a good state of affairs.”
Trump's treatment of Ryan, as bad as it was, pales in comparison to Wednesday's incident, Jolly said, and the candidate flipped out even though he probably has nothing to worry about. After all, the bulk of the district's voters voted early and he's running in a state Trump took by some 20 points.
“Instead of handling it like a substantive candidate, he put the reporter in a choke hold," he said. "That makes what Donald Trump did to April Ryan look [trivial], and I never thought we'd get to that.”
Conservative commentator Ben Ferguson said he didn't buy the Gianforte-Trumpism connection.
“I understand why Democrats are trying to somehow connect a guy in Montana that was an idiot to the president, because you're trying to try to score political points. Let's separate and actually hold the man, the candidate in Montana accountable for his actions,” he said, adding that the guy should apologize and leave the race. “This was a grown man, running for Congress, who obviously cannot handle the heat that comes with running for office.”
Jolly said that even if one doesn't buy the connection between the two, the is a definite parallel between them: both are bad, thin-skinned candidates.
"Bad candidates can't handle the scrutiny of the press. And that's true of a Congressional candidate in Montana, and that's true of the president of the United States, who cannot handle the scrutiny of the press," he said. "And that is one thing that Trump and Gianforte have in common, and Ben, you cannot break up that nexus.”