Political analyst: Montana GOP moved, not Gov. Racicot
Former Montana lawmaker Dorothy Bradley and former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot embrace at a rally to stop the dozens of constitutional amendment proposals made in the 2023 legislative sessions. Both were keynote speakers at the Feb. 1, 2023, event. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)
Yes, former Gov. Marc Racicot still considers himself a Republican, despite the state party’s resolution to kick him out.
In fact, when it comes to getting crosswise with the GOP, Racicot said he “crossed the Rubicon” emotionally back in 2016. Then, he caused the party consternation for his opposition of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Really, it’s the Montana Republican Party that’s changed since Racicot was elected to state office, said political analyst Lee Banville. Racicot served as governor from 1993 to 2001.
He first served as attorney general in Montana, then governor, and later as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Back then, Republicans recruited him to run for office, but now, they’re disowning him in Montana.
“It’s just striking to me that a political party would reject you,” said Banville, political and media analyst and head of the School of Journalism at the University of Montana.
Whether the party gains from the resolution last week that rebukes Racicot for, among other alleged shortcomings, his stance against former President Trump, Banville said the action underscores its narrow views.
“Montana Republicanism is a pretty rigid group that adheres to a pro-Trump, pro-Trumpian worldview, and if you don’t agree to all of it, then you’re excommunicated,” Banville said.
(These days, he said both parties struggle with rigidity when it comes to their sets of beliefs: “If you don’t adhere to all of them, you’re done.”)
Racicot said he has his set of intentions and the party has its own, and Banville said it’s a different organization today, as the resolution illustrates.
“The modern Republican party in Montana really has moved to a place that is different than when Governor Racicot was … a power broker in it,” Banville said. “And that’s not to be minimized. I think it really is that different a party than it was just a short while ago.”
The resolution, first reported by the Helena Independent Record, states Racicot has taken “aggressive” action to “undermine” GOP candidates. Chairman Don Kaltschmidt signed it on Feb. 15.
Posted on the party’s website, the resolution said people shouldn’t consider Racicot a spokesperson for the party, and Racicot said he’s totally comfortable continuing his work.
Lately, he’s given talks about the vulnerable state of the republic, and he’s also advocating to ensure the Montana Constitution continues to reflect the will of the people rather than one party.
(On the national stage, he said he thinks Trump is becoming less and less relevant.)
“Frankly it doesn’t alter what I’m doing, what I think, what I feel, what I think is the right thing to do,” Racicot said. “I’m pretty much unconcerned with it.”
He endorsed Democrat Monica Tranel over Republican and now-Congressman Ryan Zinke for Montana’s new U.S. House district — because, Racicot said, he saw Zinke as an obvious enabler of Trump.
He supported incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson over “conservative and MTGOP endorsed James Brown” for the Montana Supreme Court, another shortfall, the resolution said.
Racicot said that decision was a no-brainer. One candidate – Brown – was recruited by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte even though Montanans chose to have nonpartisan elections for judicial candidates.
Tuesday, the House Democrats pointed to seven pieces of legislation — drafted or introduced by Republicans — they said will unnecessarily inject partisan politics into nonpartisan elections.
The judiciary doesn’t control the purse and it doesn’t control the sword, Racicot said. So if the judiciary isn’t independent, he said, other branches may overpower it.
“Without that balance, then again, this fragile arrangement that we’ve had for 234 years falls apart,” Racicot said.
The resolution also cites Racicot’s support for President Joe Biden over Trump in 2020. Racicot, in turn, said he and others see Trump as unqualified to serve and unfit when it comes to character.
The GOP didn’t respond to a question about whether anyone opposed the resolution or if the party intends to vote on censuring any other Republicans. The Montana Free Press said the GOP vote was unanimous.
Generally, it states Racicot is problematic because he “retains an elevated profile in Montana,” and people might think he’s speaking on behalf of the party when he gives speeches.
In an interview, Racicot called himself an accident of history.
In 1988, Republicans recruited him to run for attorney general, he said. He was happy in that role, he said, but then-Gov. Stan Stephens decided not to seek a second term due to health concerns, and Republican leaders called on Racicot again, this time to run for governor.
Back when he was recruited, Racicot said he read through the party platform to see if he agreed with it, and largely, he did. Over the years, he worked to try to shape it closer to his “center-right” views.
Racicot said he also contemplated his own hierarchy of values, which starts with family and faith and ends with party. Over the years, he’s tried to follow that hierarchy. “What are you supposed to do as a political leader?” he said.
He said he’s troubled the Montana Republican Party has evolved to push for political control without a sense of moderation or compromise.
If his principles match up with his party’s, he said that’s great.
On the other hand, he’s been called a RINO, or Republican In Name Only, and he remains at peace with his own value system. Racicot said he’s made mistakes, but he won’t compromise principles for party: “I wouldn’t change a bit.”
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