By Martin Kidston
A group of Missoula residents gathered outside Rep. Ryan Zinke’s office on Tuesday to urge the state’s lone representative to follow other Republican leaders and withdraw his support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
While Zinke, R-Montana, has called Trump’s comments regarding the sexual assault of a woman 10 years ago “shocking and wrong,” he has stopped short of withdrawing his support for the candidate. Rather, he said, he was praying that Trump has “grown from this mistake.”
“He needs to issue a stronger response – he needs to denounce his support for Donald Trump and his candidacy,” said Juniper Davis, who organized the Missoula rally. “Other prominent Republicans have taken that strong stand, and we think Zinke should as well, and he should do it for all Montanans.”
The Missoula rally coincided with similar events held in Billings, Great Falls and Helena. Gathered outside Zinke’s field office on South Avenue, local protesters held signs reading “Zinke wake up: dump Trump” and “Stand with Montana women.”
Zinke’s Missoula office was closed, as was his office in Washington, D.C. A request for comments left on voicemail were not returned.
It was last Friday when the Washington Post released a 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump boasted, in lewd terms, about kissing and groping women and the sexual assault of one woman.
Trump passed it off as “locker room talk” during Sunday night’s presidential debate, though that hasn’t appeased many Republican leaders who have since denounced their party’s candidate and withdrawn their support from his campaign.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, called Trump’s comments “inappropriate and offensive,” adding that “no woman should ever be demeaned or described in this manner.” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, directed his comments directly at Trump.
“I find your comments about women appalling,” Tester said. “Women are not numbers on a scale. They are not animals. And they should never be subjected to sexual assault.”
Zinke has aligned himself with Trump during the current election cycle. He introduced Trump during his campaign stop in Billings earlier this year, and he officially endorsed Trump for president.
Zinke said he would also be willing to accept a Cabinet position in a potential Trump presidency. At one time, he spoke with Trump about joining him as a vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket.
“When that video came out of Donald Trump, it just brought shivers to my body,” said Davis. “As a Montanan, how our representatives speak and sound on these issues is really important to me. It’s not an insignificant thing. I was waiting for what I assumed would be coming from Zinke, but it hasn’t come.”
At Tuesday’s rally, Melissa Barcroft recounted an experience where she was groped and later blamed for the assault. She too called on Zinke to address the issue and denounce Trump, who she believes has shown a pattern of indifference toward women throughout the campaign.
“Someone with that much clout should be making the situation better, especially someone who wants to be America’s president and representative to the world,” said Barcroft. “By standing silent on the issue, Zinke is passively accepting Trump’s comments, and that’s horrendous to me.”
Other Western congressional members have also withdrawn their support for Trump, including Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, among others.
“A lot of men are really finding their voice now when it comes to this issue,” said Barcroft. “I’m super proud so many Republican men are standing up and saying something about it. It’s too big of an issue to deem it a joke.”
Denver Henderson, who joined Tuesday’s rally, said his concerns had nothing to do with party politics, but rather, human decency.
“We owe it to each other to have civil discourse,” he said. “The direction Mr. Trump is headed is not the direction for Montana, and it’s disgraceful Ryan Zinke continues to support this man.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org