HELENA – After months of tacitly or directly supporting President Donald Trump’s denial of the results of the 2020 election, top Montana Republicans denounced the violence that took over the nation’s Capitol and delayed Congress’ certification of the presidential election for Joe Biden. But one of them doubled down.
Sen. Steve Daines, who sought $5 donations from supporters in November to send campaign staff to Arizona to ensure that state’s ballots were counted correctly, was one of about a dozen senators who said he would challenge the electoral results in several swing states.
Lawmakers were debating the opposition to Arizona’s Electoral College votes Wednesday when rioters stormed the Capitol. Intruders broke into lawmakers’ offices, forced Congress to be evacuated and caused damage throughout the building. Four people died, including a woman who was shot by police in the Capitol.
Daines joined several senators in dropping their challenges.
“In light of the deplorable violence, and the assault on our Constitution and law enforcement, the senator believed it was best for our nation to move forward with as much unity as possible, and affirm the results,” his spokesperson Katie Schoettler said late Wednesday. “The senator will continue to fight for election reform through all legal and peaceful means.”
But the newest member of Montana’s Congressional delegation maintained his opposition.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale issued a statement condemning the riot, but added: “However, I will not be intimidated by mob violence from the left or the right. I will oppose certification of electors from certain disputed states. These votes today were always about preserving and protecting the integrity of our election process, not any candidate,” he said.
Congress early Thursday confirmed Biden’s Electoral College victory.
“Violence has no place in our civil society,” said Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for an attack on a reporter in May 2017, on the eve of winning a special election for the state’s U.S. House seat. “I was thankful that Congress reconvened in the early hours of today and ratified the election. It’s time to move on,” he said Thursday.
But why did Montana Republicans continue to entertain Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen or that an investigation was needed?
“Quite frankly, Sen. Daines and Rep. Rosendale need the votes of the ‘true believers’ who think the election was stolen, including those who would participate in the insurrection yesterday at the U.S. Capitol,” said Jason Adkins, assistant professor of political science at MSU-Billings. “Without those voters turning out to vote (some of whom aren’t typical likely voters), they would have faced much closer election races, and possibly defeat last November.
“Rep. Rosendale, in particular, is holding firm because he faces reelection in two years, and does not want either a tough primary challenge or lose a close race in 2022 because some of his supporters from 2020 fail to turn out to vote,” Adkins said in an email to The Associated Press.
On Dec. 30, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska presciently posted on Facebook: “Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
It was Trump himself who sowed the seeds of doubt during his campaign, saying if he lost it meant the election was rigged. However, neither he, his supporters nor members of Congress challenging the results were able to provide any evidence of widespread fraud despite filing dozens of cases in court. Even during the riot at the Capitol, Trump continued to state that the election had been stolen.
Gianforte, then a member of the U.S. House, joined more than 100 members of Congress in early December in support of a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from casting their Electoral College votes, saying the states made unconstitutional changes to their election laws. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox also supported the effort, which was rejected.
In the weeks after the election, Gianforte and Daines repeatedly defended the president’s right to challenge the election and suggested allowing it to play out in court.
When asked on Dec. 14 if Gianforte would acknowledge Biden as president-elect, he issued a statement saying: “Americans cast their ballots, the Electoral College convenes today, and I expect them to vote for Joe Biden as our next president.”
Daines’ response to the same question didn’t include Biden’s name: “The Electoral College meets today, Congress will ratify the results and a President will be sworn into office on January 20th.”
Trump’s campaign along with national and state Republican Party organizations unsuccessfully challenged the decision of Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, under the pandemic emergency, to allow counties the option to hold the general election mostly by mail.
Daines, Rosendale and Gianforte all were on the Montana ballot in 2020. They did not challenge Montana’s election or Electoral College votes, all three of which went to Trump.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.