Bridget Pack

(Missoula Current) Donald Trump Jr. and several Republican candidates took the stage on Sunday to address a crowd of approximately 300 people ahead of the upcoming election.

The Republican party took a stance on various issues such as transgender women in sports, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s political track record, securing the border, and their opinion on how the current administration has handled past and present wars.

“We can't afford to allow a fraud to represent the values of Montana, one of the most conservative states in the country, yet you have one of the most, maybe the most liberal Senators (Sen. Jon Tester),” said Trump Jr. “And yet, you'll have people spending a lot of money to make sure that others think they're moderates rather than radicals, like the few radicals we saw out here chanting pro-Hamas slogans in Montana.”

Trump Jr. attended the “Protecting Freedom” event by the Montana Association of Conservatives (MAC-PAC) held at the University of Montana ballroom, along with U.S. Sen. Candidate Tim Sheehy, Governor Greg Gianforte, U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke and Alex Bruesewitz, a Trump loyalist.

Trump and Bruesewitz took aim at Tester and the LGBTQ community, with Bruesewitz proudly claiming to have ousted "rhinos" from office.

“Let's not get off of the rhinos, and let's talk about the Democrats.  And you guys have one of the worst far left, radical left senators in the entire country,” Bruesewitz said. “John Tester pretends to be a moderate, but he has zero moderate bones in that obese body of his.”

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, is running for re-election against Republican Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and owner of an aerial firefighting company in Belgrade. Sheehy’s speech focused on why he believes Tester is not good for Montana and how his time as a Navy Seal led him to run for Senate.

“So the reason I'm standing up here today it's not because I ever wanted to be a senator or a politician of any kind. I can promise you that I wasn't really even political,” Sheehy said. “I was a warfighter. I was proud to serve our country.”

Sheehy cited that over 800 U.S. citizens were left behind in Afghanistan after the current administration's departure, which was a driving factor behind his decision to challenge Tester.

“I watched this president and all of his enablers pull us out of Afghanistan on the most disgraceful, shameful display of American cowardness I've ever seen in my life. And that was the first time I was ever ashamed to be an American. I was ashamed of that flag. I can promise you that. I made promises to allies, interpreters, commandos.”

Republican Sen. candidate Tim Sheehy in Missoula. (Bridget Pack/Missoula Current)
Republican Sen. candidate Tim Sheehy in Missoula. (Bridget Pack/Missoula Current)

Sheehy mentioned that people should spread the word during his speech since they won't find it on Google. He talked about the “Google machine” and the negative search results that may appear when his name is googled.

“They're going to have to do the research and figure out truth.  We have so many important races this year. You can hear from so many other candidates, but number one, we have to win the White House with President Donald Trump. That's number one. Number two, the House of Representatives.”

Sheehy told the crowd that he was not running “against” Sen. Jon Tester but for the American people.

He ended his speech with, “In this polarized time, almost all of us want the same thing, and it's time for us to bring common sense back. We want secure borders, safe streets, good schools, cheap gas, boys and boys, girls and girls. Let's make it happen in 2020.”

U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale, who currently represents Montana's eastern congressional district, was briefly a primary challenger to Sheehy. However, Rosendale withdrew from the race just a week after filing for the seat due to threats he received against his family.

Both Gianforte and Zinke are running for re-election this year. They talked about ousting Tester, securing borders, and addressing the Gaza-Israel conflict. Gianforte said they were arresting Mexican drug cartel members here in Montana and reflected on the record growth in fentanyl due to what he says is “open borders.”

The governor’s speech focused on his track record while telling attendees he was proud of their efforts to improve the foster care system.

“It's not something you typically think of a Republican going after, but it's important,” Gianforte said. “When I came into office, we had a problem in Montana. We had the second-highest number of kids in foster care per capita in the entire country. That was bad.”

Tim Sheehy (on the left) poses with Thelma Baker and Ryan Zinke (on the right) during Donald Trump Jr.’s “Protecting Freedom” event in Missoula, Mt., Sunday evening. (Bridget Lynn Pack/Missoula Curent)
Tim Sheehy (on the left) poses with Thelma Baker and Ryan Zinke (on the right) during Donald Trump Jr.’s “Protecting Freedom” event in Missoula, Mt., Sunday evening. (Bridget Lynn Pack/Missoula Current)

According to Gianforte, the number of kids in Montana foster care has been reduced by 45% in three years. His office established the Office of Faith and Community Service at D-P-H-H-S.

“Every child deserves a permanent loving home, this is quite a stark contrast with the Biden administration,” said Gianforte.

He stated that he is proud that Ryan Zinke is Montana's congressman and emphasized the need to ensure his re-election and return to the House. Zinke also reflected on his time as a Navy Seal and shared his stance on the Hamas conflict.

“A couple of things I know: One dollar goes into Gaza, and that dollar goes to Hamas. So, you know, I fought a lot of battles. This is the general sequence. When you go to war, you're slow because you understand the consequences of war,” Zinke said. “War is evil. It kills innocent civilians. War is a last resort. But when you go to war, you go to war to win.

Zinke went on to say that you do not aid the enemy until they surrender.

“I would offer in Hamas, in Gaza, aid after the surrender and return of the hostages. But it wouldn’t be the start until that term, and those conditions are met,” Zinke said.

Many Republicans consider Montana crucial in regaining control of Washington, D.C. Former President Donald Trump won the state 16 points in the 2020 elections. In the House race Ryan Zinke is facing a rematch of his 2020 election against Democrat Monica Tranel.

Tranel previously lost to Zinke by four percentage points. Mary Todd, a Republican pastor from Kalispell, is also running in the Republican primary against Zinke. Gianforte, who won by about 13% in 2020, is running against  Ryan Busse, a Democrat who lives in Kalispell, and Tanner Smith, a Republican from Lakeside.

Bruesewitz called for unity in the Republican Party to defeat Tester. But not all candidates were invited to the event; Tanner Smith, a Republican candidate for Montana Governor, and Charles Walking Child, a Native Republican U.S. Senator candidate, had their invitations revoked.

“My being denied free speech and participation is a clear indication that communism is alive and well,” Walking Child said. “It is time for all Montana to stand up and support me and remove Governor Greg (Gianforte), (Sen. Steve) Daines, Zinke, and the Nazis.”