What Tester’s Win Means

Photo Source Senate Democrats | CC BY 2.0

Montanans should be proud of their fellow citizens for sending Jon Tester back to the Senate on Election Day. Faced with the ugliest display of crude and degrading campaigning against him by the president, his son, the vice president and other out-of-state politicians, Tester — a true Montanan born and raised under our big sky — managed to prevail without once resorting to the lowlife tactics of his opponents.

Not in recent memory has any sitting president come to Montana four times to campaign against an incumbent Montana senator. As President Trump made widely known, he considered it his revenge mission to unseat Tester, claiming that it was “personal” because Tester torpedoed Trump’s nominee to head the Veterans Administration.

But in truth, Trump’s nominee, Ronnie Jackson, withdrew voluntarily after Tester released details provided to him concerning Jackson’s proclivity to pass out prescription drugs like candy and drink on the job. That Jackson bailed prior to his Senate confirmation hearing says a great deal about the validity of the concerns raised by Tester who, as a senator, has a constitutionally mandated duty to “advise and consent” on high-level administration nominees.

Had Trump, his son and surrogates stuck to the issues, it’s possible they may have been successful in unseating Tester since prior to this election he has never pulled a majority in his two campaigns. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, Trump berated Tester personally and his son went far over the edge of civility, calling Tester “a piece of garbage” and claiming that he, the son of a New York billionaire, knew more about Montana and Montanans than did Tester — a foolish and false claim that backfired spectacularly as Montanans were repelled by his crude and childish name-calling.

For his part, Tester not only refused to be sucked into the ugliness of Trumpian politics, he actually ran a statewide ad the day of the president’s early attacks welcoming him to Montana and suggesting he take a look around and consider the real issues facing the state. To his great credit, Tester continued this tact throughout the campaign, saying the race was between him and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale as individuals and that’s how Montanans should weigh their choice at the ballot box.

In a day in which Trump saw a host of defeats across the nation resulting in the loss of the Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and potentially an ignominious end to his rampant and corrupt administration’s backwards policies, Tester’s win in Montana stands out as one of Trump’s most significant losses.

National pundits continually pointed to Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in Montana by 20 percentage points. They forget that Clinton never even bothered to campaign in Montana, apparently considering us “flyover country” and not worthy of her precious time. They also never consider the fact that Bernie Sanders actually won the Montana primary against Clinton — only to be stabbed in the back by the Democratic National Committee and having Montana’s primary preference betrayed by most of our state delegates who voted for Clinton at the Democratic national nominating convention. For the majority of Montanans who voted for Bernie in the Demo primary, such betrayal and corruption was untenable and many decided simply not to vote for Clinton in the general election — hence Trump’s much-flaunted 20-point advantage.

But that’s water under the bridge. Now Sen. Jon Tester goes back to Washington to represent Montana in the Senate — and Montanans can be proud that, in our state, civility prevailed over Trump’s crude and insulting campaigning.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.