President Trump’s racist tweets and comments are drawing support in Montana, where Trump won by 20 percentage points in the 2016 popular vote against Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Steve Daines, Republican from Montana, tweeted in support of Trump Monday, writing: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”
In a tweet on Sunday, the president called for four freshmen Democratic House members to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Trump’s series of tweets incorrectly states the women of color all came from other countries. Three were born in the United States, and all four are American citizens.
Daines is running for re-election in 2020, and the Montana GOP featured his tweet in an fundraising email.
Many Montanans who support Trump are joining Daines in standing with Trump.
At Black Butte range in Billings, Mont., gunsmith Jerome Hall, a veteran who describes himself as a Trump supporter, says he thinks Trump’s tweets and the reaction to them were funny, not racist.
“It just makes me giggle that everybody’s all up in arms about this,” he says. He doesn’t think Trump made a racial comment, rather one about the places these congresswomen represent.
“Trump saying they need to go back to their country is pretty much him saying ‘go back to California, go back to New York,’ ” he says. He believes Trump may have misspoke and meant to say “state” instead of “country.”
“Social media is social media. Everybody takes it as the word of God, and it’s not,” he says. “I post stupid stuff on Facebook all the time and that’s because it’s funny. I’m more worried about what he plans on spending the budget on. That’s what I’m looking at. Where is he putting the money for the state? Is it going to stupid stuff, is it going to make the state better? Everything like that.”
As for Daines’ support of Trump’s comments, Hall says the senator was “doing what he was hired to do by the police of Montana.”
“The people that voted him in are now the ones saying he needs to leave because he supports Trump. All because he supports Trump,” Hall says. “If it would have been a different candidate, then if Hillary would have posted that everybody would be freaking out cheering her on.”
Montana native and Black Butte Range co-owner Andrew Stapleton doesn’t agree with everything Trump does, but says he saw the tweets as a criticism of the congresswomen’s work in their own districts.
“Essentially, as I read this is ‘Don’t throw rocks if you live in a glass house,’ ” he says. “It just has to do with, go back and fix your areas, and then you can try to fix my area.”
Tanner Lineberry, who sells building supplies and stopped into the range, says Trump’s comments and the reaction are just a distraction from the president’s accomplishments. He praised Trump’s work on the economy and foreign policy.
And he agrees with Trump’s tweets. “It doesn’t sound like [the congresswomen] really want to be here … so, if they don’t want to be here, they should probably go somewhere else.”
Lineberry says Trump will have his support in 2020, as long as the president doesn’t go after gun rights.
Many Montanans, however, are joining the outrage against Trump and including Daines in their criticism.
Helena, Mont., Mayor Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee who’s vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Daines in 2020, tweeted, “I served this country for over 20 years in the U.S. Armed Forces. Does @SteveDaines think I should ‘go back to where I came from’ too?”
Collins later posted a video recounting one of his early days in Montana, when he says a vandal spray-painted on his door, “Go back to Africa.”
“This kind of behavior is inevitable from vandals in the night, or anonymous online commenters, but not from a U.S. senator,” Collins said.
Collins is calling on Daines to apologize for questioning the loyalty of the four Democratic representatives.
John Mues, a veteran and engineer from Loma also seeking the Democratic nod, called Daines a “divider whose policies weaken America” and likened him to regime leaders in North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Collins and Mues are using the tweet to leverage donations.
Late Monday afternoon, Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester tweeted, “We should be able to disagree on policy and politics without devolving into divisive, hateful rhetoric. President Trump’s comments were reprehensible and far beneath the office of the presidency.”
An email sent from the Montana GOP account on Tuesday says the party and Daines stand behind the president’s tweets.
A spokesperson for Daines told Yellowstone Public Radio that Americans agree with Daines’ take and that he values feedback from all Montanans.