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'Campaign Beat:' Macho Ads, 'Cultural Condescension' And Signature-Gathering Shenanigans

Campaign Beat, Montana Public Radio's weekly political analysis program.
Campaign Beat, Montana Public Radio's weekly political analysis program.

  EDITOR'S NOTE: This text in this post was corrected on April 3, 2018, see * below. 

A macho military man taunts a music teacher; and a lesson in "cultural condescension" from Hillary Clinton. Yep, new campaign ads are out. Sally Mauk, Chuck Johnson, and Rob Saldin examine those, and explain the signature-gathering  shenanigans surrounding the Green Party, and similar efforts in past elections. Listen in now on "Campaign Beat."

Sally Mauk: Welcome to "Campaign Beat" our weekly political analysis program. I'm Sally Mauk and I'm joined by veteran Capitol Reporter Chuck Johnson and University of Montana Political Science Professor Rob Saldin.

SM: And Rob, Republican Senate candidate Troy Downing has a new TV ad out titled 'Trumpeter or Trump Supporter' and let's listen to the ad which is generating quite a lot of buzz.

Downing ad: "Troy Downing is a Montanan, war-vet, helicopter and jet pilot, and big supporter of President Trump.

"Jon Tester was an elementary school music teacher, plays the trumpet, fights against our president every day.

"So whom should we send to the Senate, the trumpeter or the Trump supporter?

"Troy Downing is the warrior who will fight for Montana and for America."

SM: And the visuals in this ad show a sturdy Troy Downing climbing into a jet and a Jon Tester lookalike sitting on a tractor playing the trumpet. And the ad ends with the jet ostensibly strafing the tractors, sending Tester flying off into the ether.

And I don't know about you Rob, but I found the ad more disturbing than clever.

Rob Saldin: Totally agree. The contrast here is clear. Downing is a macho tough guy who drives a fighter jet. Tester is a dorky musician who drives a beat-up tractor and teaches elementary school, so obviously, Downing is more qualified to be a senator. And then we get to see the fly-by in which the cool macho military guy torments the weak dorky figure just for the fun of it. There you go.

SM: Well the implication is, as you say, that being a music teacher — which Tester was before he became a senator — is more effete, less manly.

RS: Yeah, I think that is clearly the message and all the visuals back that up.

SM: And Chuck, this isn't the first campaign ad in the Montana Senate race to question the candidate's manliness.

Chuck Johnson: No Sally. In 2002 the Montana Democratic Party ran an ad attacking the Republican Senate candidate Mike Taylor in the race against Democrat Max Baucus. And it showed a video of Taylor some 15 or 20 years earlier giving a haircut and a facial to a man in a barber chair when Taylor had a salon. And with the clear implication that Taylor was a gay hairdresser. It was a very disturbing ad, and was attacked even by some Democrats, saying it was really unfair. Taylor was so disturbed by it he actually dropped out of the race and eventually entered and was slaughtered by Baucus in the general election. But the implication was clear that he was a gay hairdresser and Taylor in fact owned a series of salons and barbershops, owned a company that made hair products and owned barber and hairdressing colleges around the country.

SM: And as far as we know was not gay.

CJ: And his wife Janna Taylor succeeded him in the Montana Senate.

SM: Rob, Jon Tester responded to the Downing ad by posting a video of himself playing "Taps" on the trumpet, and Downing quickly attacked him for disrespecting vets.

RS: Yeah, right. It was kind of a surreal exchange. The day after releasing this ad that seems to kind of glorify hazing, Downing then issues this really pearl-clutching statement in which he is aghast at the impropriety of Tester having the gall to play "Taps" and Downing demands an apology from Tester. And it struck me as just a pretty amazing contrast to go from that advertisement to that statement in the course of 36 hours.

CJ: Tester has said in the past that he has played "Taps" with his trumpet at veterans' funerals if there's no trumpeter available, and has done that a number of occasions.

SM: Downing clearly isn't worried about losing the music teacher vote in Montana.

Chuck, Downing and his three other Republican primary opponents Russ Fagg, Matt Rosendale and Al Olszewski held their second debate in Missoula this week. And like Downing, Matt Rosendale is all-in with President Trump and his agenda.

"It's based on three pillars: expand our economy, defend our nation and preserve our culture. And if he has support in implementing that agenda, then he will be a tremendous asset here in Montana," Rosendale said.

SM: And I thought the phrase, "preserve our culture" was an interesting choice, Chuck.

CJ: Yeah, we don't know what that means Sally. Does it mean preserve our mostly white culture? Does that mean keep immigrants out? It's an odd choice of words, but no question about it, Rosendale is thoroughly embracing Trump.

Downing as well. Downing has taken two of the Trump sons hunting, and his campaign manager is Lolita Zinke who's the wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and very close to Trump. So, it's sort of a race to who can embrace Trump the most, I think.

SM: Russell Fagg was the only one of the four Republican Senate candidates not to say would back Trump 100 percent.

"If we get into a trade war, then it's gonna hurt our bread-and-butter which is agriculture in Montana. So I'm gonna go back and support those things that I believe in that will help Montanans — and I believe that's most of his [Pres. Trump] agenda — but I'm not going to support everything if it doesn't help Montana," Fagg said.

SM: And I wonder, Chuck, how caveats like that will play with die-hard Trump supporters.

CJ: That's really a big question in the race, Sally. Fagg, he certainly supports Trump, but not quite as wholeheartedly as certainly Rosendale and Downing.

SM: Rob the National Republican Senatorial Committee also has a new ad out attacking Jon Tester.

Republican Senatorial Committee ad: [Hillary Clinton:] "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables."

[Hillary Clinton:] "If you look at the map of the United States there's all that red in the middle where Trump won, and his whole campaign 'Make America Great Again' was looking backwards.".

[Hillary Clinton:] "They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it."

SM: Well this ad, Rob, goes after Tester for supporting Hillary Clinton for president. That was, of course, Hillary there in the audio. And the assumption, I guess, is that hatred of Hillary remains a motivating factor for a lot of voters.

RS: Yeah that's right. You know, I found the ad to be very effective. And I think it's effective because it really hammers on one of the central prisms through which many Trump supporters see the world, and that's the prism of cultural condescension. From their perspective, I think, they see the cultural elite — you know, be that the media, people on the coasts and Hollywood, on college campuses — they see this cultural elite alternatively mocking them and sneering at them. And they see the most privileged people in our society at once kind of ignoring their concerns and struggles while at the same time pointing to them as the problem and reflexively condemning them as racists and so on.

And so, for this audience, Hillary Clinton and her comments just perfectly embody all of that. You aren't going to find clips of Jon Tester saying things like that. But this whole cultural condescension piece, I think, is just such a powerful undercurrent in our politics, and Republicans are going to do everything they can in this campaign to try to tie Tester to figures who most trigger those feelings.

SM: Chuck, Tester has his own new campaign ad out which doesn't talk about Hillary but does talk about veterans, and in fact features a Montana veteran.

Tester ad: "I train to be Mr. Tough Guy in the military. When I got out I was suffering real bad. It wasn't until I ended up in a coma that I finally got help for my PTSD. Jon Tester's work in Washington helped me get my life back. He's taken-on everybody back there for better veterans facilities across our state. Montanans are tough, but Jon's delivering everything we need to take care of each other too."

SM: And that's a big campaign theme for Tester, Chuck, his support for veterans in a state that has a lot of them.

CJ: Yes Sally, Montana has one of the very highest percentage of veterans per capita in the states and about one out of every 10 Montanans is a veteran. And Tester's first two ads that we've seen that have run on television certainly cite his work on veterans issues. He sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and I think we'll hear a lot about it. He's sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills that are intended to help veterans in various ways and I think this will be a theme we'll hear throughout the campaign.

Rob, the legitimacy of the Green Party making the Montana ballot at the last minute and running two candidates in this Senate race; that continues to be questioned lately by the state Democratic Party which has filed a complaint that a Las Vegas firm with ties to the Republican party hired out-of-state people to gather the signatures necessary to get the Green Party on the ballot. And it does, on the face of it I think, seem like there might be some there, there.

RS: It does. The complaint is focused on this Nevada-based group, not on the Green Party, per se. But the implication here is very clear: the Democratic Party clearly is suggesting that people affiliated with the Republican Party came to Montana to help the Green Party get qualified for the ballot. Why would they do this? Obviously, because the Republicans think that to the extent Green Party candidates appear on the ballot, that they will draw votes away from the Democratic candidates. And to the extent that these allegations are true, that is a violation of campaign rules.

SM: And if it is true, this is a tactic that's been used before, Chuck, in other races.

CJ: Yes, we've seen the two parties sort of play with third party candidates to hurt their opposing party, the either the Democratic or Republican Party. In 2012 when Tester won re-election against Congressman Denny Rehberg the Republican, a group formed called Montana [Backcountry] Hunters and Anglers and they were launched by liberal activists and they* spent a lot of money on advertising supporting the Libertarian candidate Dan Cox in a move that was seen to hurt Dennis Rehberg in the Senate race. So we have seen this in the past.

*CORRECTION: This should read “Montana Hunters and Anglers Action.” Montana Hunters and Anglers Action is a 501c4 that is not affiliated with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a national 501c3 that has chapters in 35 states, including Montana. 

SM: Well there are only a little over two months until the June primary, buckle up.

You've been listening to "Campaign Beat" our weekly political analysis program. I'm Sally Mauk and I've been speaking with University of Montana Political Science Professor Rob Saldin and veteran Capitol Reporter Chuck Johnson. Guys we'll talk to you next week.

Retired in 2014 but still a presence at MTPR, Sally Mauk is a University of Kansas graduate and former wilderness ranger who has reported on everything from the Legislature to forest fires.
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