BY MICHAEL STEELE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, THE HILL – 05/26/17 01:40 PM EDT
Apparently asking Greg Gianforte, the Republican contender in Montana’s recent special election, a question about the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the Republican healthcare bill is enough to cause him to lose his mind. How else does one explain his alleged but inexcusable physical body slamming of a reporter?
And now he is a member of Congress. Joy.
While Montana newspapers unendorsed Gianforte less than 12 hours before the voting began, the congressional race was turned on its head and Republicans scrambled to either distance themselves or politely chastise the candidate while seemingly standing by the GOP standard-bearer.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called Gianforte’s behavior “wrong” and offered that “there’s never a call for physical assault.”
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said “we need to let the facts surrounding this incident unfold. Today’s special election is bigger than any one person; it’s about the views of all Montanans. They deserve to have their voices heard in Washington.”
Even Gianforte had been largely silent throughout the day of the race, with not even an initial apology (his campaign did issue a statement in stark contrast to eyewitness accounts and audio of the incident) until his victory speech Thursday night. “Last night I made a mistake,” Gianforte said. “I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry.”
Here’s the problem with all of this: It should never have happened.
“I’m surprised that someone would do that,” said Harper Lubich, who was asked for a reaction by a local newspaper and who voted in yesterday’s special statewide election.
“Not only as a politician, but as a person. It says a lot about his stances on issues if he would rather attack someone than defend his position.”
When you decided you wanted to be in Congress, Gianforte, what did you think the job would entail? Spout off a few platitudes about “repealing and replacing” ObamaCare and call it a day?
That’s the problem with those who seek public service and many who currently serve: they don’t know the job description.
If you want to serve, then you’d better put your “big boy” pants on. If a question about a CBO scoring sets you off, what are you going to do when a reporter or two or 20 asks you about a Trump tweet or why you voted to take away a family’s healthcare?
Right or wrong, tough or unfair, the questions will come, and a mark of your leadership is how you stand to answer for and on behalf of your constituents.
It is also sad to note that far too many of my fellow Republicans shied away from an immediate and outright condemnation of Gianforte’s behavior, regardless of his version of what prompted the altercation.
More and more, Republicans have embraced a certain abrasiveness, even crudeness, in our politics that belies the very ideals they’ve espoused for a generation. If Republicans couldn’t or didn’t want to answer questions about Gianforte’s behavior on the eve of his election to Congress, what are they going to say when he shows up to take his seat?
Yeah, that “party over decency” thing is tough to balance these days.
But, there’s a broader point to consider. Governing is hard (or maybe even “complicated”), especially with the current highly charged partisan environment on Capitol Hill. But governing is not just about passing laws, it’s about how our leaders conduct themselves — with integrity, accountability and values that reflect a respect for others. It’s how they engage in civil discourse.
Fair play, civility and respect for the inherent worth of another person’s ideas or questions (even from “liberal journalists”) are all values vital to the continued success of our nation, and essential tools necessary to elevate our politics and our public dialogue.
Perhaps a clergyman, family member, consultant or somebody will explain that to Gianforte before he shows up to Capitol Hill; or maybe just start with not everything that happens to you or is said to you requires you to respond with your fist.
Michael Steele is the former Republican National Committee chairman and former lieutenant governor of Maryland. He is also an MSNBC political analyst.