Daines’ high-stakes bet

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, speaks during a signing ceremony for the Great American Outdoors Act in the East Room of the White House on Aug. 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. The new public lands law aims to fix crumbling national park infrastructure and permanently fund The Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Politicians, by nature, are calculators, oddsmakers, bettors, bookies.

They bet on winning and losing all the time.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines bet on President Donald J. Trump. But following the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Daines changed his wager.

That day a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, erected a gallows, killed a U.S. Capitol policeman, and searched like terrorists for lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.

They threatened to stop Congress from doing its constitutional duty to certify the presidential election.

Meanwhile, hidden from the Capitol marauders with fellow senators in a Capitol basement “secure room,” Daines made his critical political recalculation.

The newly re-elected senator, who has perpetuated and fundraised off the big lie that Democrats were trying to “steal” the election, backed off his earlier statement that he would vote with fewer than a dozen senators to stop the electoral college certification process in some states.
Daines, who only recently acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory, ultimately did the right thing and voted to certify the electors for Biden, but not before he revealed to us his lack of moral certitude and fulsome political cravenness.

Bill Lombardi (Courtesy of Raymond Lombardi)

Why?

Because of peer pressure (the New York Times reported that moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat appealed to Daines in that secure room to abandon the crazy cause to fight certification) and knowing that the tide was turning against Trump.

Before making key decisions, members of Congress weigh in their mind’s data, numbers and information they receive, such as hard mail, emails, phone calls, social media, media articles, editorials, and polling numbers. They talk to political consultants, trusted friends and advisers, spouses and partners, party leaders and get on-the-ground staff reports and recommendations to add in their political calculus.

Daines, no doubt, was rattled by the mob’s attack and the swift and palpable public outrage emanating from Montana and the country. The attack was a shocking attempt against the legislative branch to subvert the Constitution and keep the executive in office.

It played out on TV, and Americans and Montanans grew angrier by the minute with Trump’s reckless behavior and refusal to accept responsibility.

Before Jan. 6, Daines also was the target of a harsh newspaper editorial calling his proposed vote against certification “political garbage” and mocking his use of language (“steal”) that ultimately helped to incite the insurrectionists.

Calculating that information, Daines, in that basement secure room and later with his staff, had to quickly decide not to swim against the dangerous riptide of public sentiment. He changed his vote.

What this reveals is that Daines is no statesman and his moral compass points to no true magnetic north that is the truth, that his allegiance is to himself and political opportunism rather than doing what is right for Montanans and Americans.

Daines hitched his star to Trump and fashioned his political brand around the exotic radicalism of Trumpism to capture the zeitgeist that spread like wildfire across America and in Montana GOP politics.

Daines now says it’s time to turn down the “temperature.” But after enabling the tin-pot dictator and perpetuating the lie that Democrats were “stealing” the election, Daines is changing his tune because his meal ticket expires Jan. 20.

Like Trump, Daines must be held accountable for his propagation of lies and dangerous rhetoric.

Montanans should expect Daines to focus not on telling lies and lighting matches to fan the flames of tyranny.
Because bookies, bettors and craven political calculators won’t lead us out of this American darkness.

Trusted leaders will.

Bill Lombardi is a Helena resident who has worked in journalism and Montana and national politics, including the Montana Senate and U.S. Senate, for four decades.