WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday praised Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte for physically assaulting a reporter on the eve of a special election last year.
Addressing a rally in Missoula on his third trip to Montana this year, Trump at first only alluded to the 2017 incident. "Never wrestle him," he said after calling Gianforte onstage.
But then the president went further.
"Any guy who can do a body slam — he's my guy," Trump said to loud cheers.
The president said he was overseas when he first heard about Gianforte's altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and the speculation that it could hurt Republican chances in the election for the open at-large seat.
"I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him," Trump recalled thinking. "And it did."
Gianforte later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. The Republican congressman has insisted that his constituents don't ask him about it. "It's really only the media that ask me about it," he told Roll Call this summer.
This wasn't the first time Trump praised Gianforte's behavior. He also alluded to the incident at a rally in Billings in September.
"I'll tell you what: This man has fought — in more ways than one — for your state. He has fought for your state," Trump said at the time. "Greg Gianforte. He is a fighter and a winner."
Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist by 6 points last year — a much narrower margin than Trump and former Rep. Ryan Zinke had posted in 2016. Gianforte won the special election to replace Zinke, who now heads the Department of the Interior.
Gianforte faces a challenge from Democratic former state Rep. Kathleen Williams as he bids for a first full term. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican. Like many Democratic candidates this cycle, Williams is raising impressive sums for a House candidate, bringing in more than $2 million during the third quarter that ended Sept. 30.