Continental Divides

Matt Rosendale Sticks to His Guns

In an interview, the Montana congressman talks about dethroning House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and takes aim at political newcomer Tim Sheehy

By John McCaslin

Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale might say he’s not ready to announce any second bid to unseat three-term Sen. Jon Tester, but that isn’t stopping the outspoken Republican from firing the opening salvo – albeit not against the Democrat.

The congressman, in an interview with this columnist, instead took aim at political newcomer and fellow conservative Tim Sheehy, among the candidates he would confront in the June 4 Republican primary.

“So [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, he likes young, uninformed individuals, because he can quickly turn them into ‘yes men,’” Rosendale responded when asked to assess Sheehy, a combat veteran and founder of Belgrade-based Bridger Aerospace, who has racked up some serious endorsements since announcing his candidacy in June.

Above everything else since voters sent him to Capitol Hill for the first time in 2020, the brusque lawmaker from Glendive has demonstrated time and again that he has no patience for congressional stooges, especially within his Republican party.

Just ask former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, unceremoniously dethroned earlier this month with the blessings of Rosendale and seven other intolerant Republicans who teamed up for once with Democrats to take out one of their own.

“The problem is that Kevin McCarthy went to President Biden unilaterally, struck a deal, and extended the debt ceiling out until January of 2025. So that eliminated all leverage that basically the House has and put us in a really, really bad position,” recalled Rosendale, the former cost-cutting Montana state auditor who rattled off numerous other shortcomings pertaining to the burgeoning national debt.

“Sounds to me like you’re not going to miss Kevin McCarthy very much,” I interjected.

“Look,” Rosendale continued, “what everybody really needs to understand is it isn’t personal. I can go and have dinner with Kevin tonight. He might not, you know, be as inclined to sit down and break bread with me, but it’s not personal to me. This is absolutely all about policy.

“And I try to find people that are going to help us deliver that policy. And it’s a very uncomfortable position to be in,” he admitted, “but I’m not afraid to stand up for what’s right. I vote my convictions, and then I allow the politics to work themselves out. I’ve got to vote my convictions, and if I don’t there’s no reason for me to be up here.”

Convictions that are admired by the ultra-conservative wing of Congress, but viewed as detrimental by the overwhelming majority of Republicans. Consider the curious observation by McCarthy hours after he forfeited the speakership:

“I read a tweet the other day of Matt Rosendale. He goes to Mass every day. But you know what he said his prayer was all last year? That Republicans didn’t have a big victory [in House elections], that they had a narrow victory. When you have members like that – that are part of your team – you got a tough team.”

Did you actually pray for fewer Republican wins?

“I’m glad you brought that up. The proof is in the pudding,” replied Rosendale, asserting that because of the present slim majority Republicans were able to pass two of the “most conservative” pieces of legislation ever introduced in Congress surrounding domestic energy production and immigration policy/border security.

“The reason is because we had this small group of committed, principled individuals that said this is how the legislation has to come out or we are not supporting it. And so they [GOP leaders] knew it wasn’t going to get passed any other way,” he explained. “And if you had an additional 20, 30, 40 Republicans that were nothing more than ‘yes men’ for leadership, we would have been irrelevant. And that legislation would have passed, but it would not have looked anything the way that it does right now.”

The million-dollar question is whether Rosendale would risk trading his palpable influence in the House for another stab at the Senate? He finished first in the four-way 2018 Senate primary, capturing nearly 34 percent of the vote. But in the general election – despite President Trump and Vice President Pence visiting Montana seven times on his behalf – the congressman fell about four percentage points short of dislodging the centrist Tester.

So will there be a round two in 2024?

“I have set a deadline to make a decision and it’s March the 11th of 2024, which happens to coincide with the [filing] deadline of the [Montana] secretary of state,” Rosendale answered. “The [filing] window doesn’t even open up officially with the secretary of state until January 11th.”

If he does decide to run, his most formidable primary opponent would certainly be Sheehy, who’s steadily filling his campaign coffers – $2.8 million from July through September, compared to Rosendale’s $335,000 – and collecting endorsements: Gov. Greg Gianforte, Sen. Steve Daines, and Rep. Ryan Zinke in Montana; plus influential Republican senators like Marco Rubio of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

That said, a bloc of 37 like-minded Montana legislators, including House Speaker Matt Regier of Kalispell, have thrown their weight behind Rosendale, describing him as “unafraid to defy the Mitch McConnell establishment, demand change, and restore Congress to the principles that shaped this great nation.”

Rosendale also could count on support from congressional firebrands that include fellow members of the Freedom Caucus, its purpose to prod the Republican leadership further right. The caucus’ co-founder and first-ever chairperson happens to be Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who previously endorsed Rosendale.

Come to think of it, so did Kevin McCarthy.

John McCaslin is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and author.

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