If Greg Gianforte did not have hundreds of millions of dollars, I would say he was unlucky. Last week, the entrepreneur and former candidate for governor announced that he will seek the Republican nomination to fill Rep. Ryan Zinke's soon-to-be-vacant seat in the House of Representatives. In a fundraising email with a Gianforte For Congress logo, he firmly aligned himself with not just the national GOP, but also that famous president we all know and love, Donald Trump.
"This race will be ground zero and the first official battle waged by the Democrats to stop the Republican/Trump agenda," Gianforte wrote. "I simply will not stand on the sidelines and allow that to happen. I'm ready to fight for our shared Montana values."
One day later, the Republican/Trump agenda took an ugly turn. In a move that triggered protests across the country and caught the Department of Homeland Security by surprise, Trump issued an executive order stopping refugees from entering the United States for the next 120 days. The order banned refugees from Syria indefinitely and barred visitors of any kind from seven other predominantly Muslim nations. Multiple federal judges issued injunctions against the order, but some customs officials refused to comply with the injunctions, even after members of Congress tried to intervene. At this writing, we are headed for a constitutional crisis.
Gianforte could not have picked a less auspicious moment to align himself with President Trump. The subject of refugees was already a black mark on his gubernatorial campaign. In October, he sent out a mailer depicting a black-clad mujahideen and promising to keep refugees out of Montana—even though the governor has no authority to do so, and even though no refugees to the United States have ever committed acts of terrorism. It was the low point of an otherwise high-minded campaign, and it implied confusion about what "our shared Montana values" might really be.
Worse than that, it belied his Christian principles. Gianforte's commitment to biblical Christianity has been a strength and a weakness of his nascent political career. His image as an absurd literalist has dogged him ever since his remarks to the Montana Bible College in 2015. Gianforte has paid the price for his religious convictions. Why, then, would he sell them out for a president who wears his Christianity like a necktie—something for public appearances and important meetings that he takes off as soon as he is alone?
There is nothing Christian about refusing refugees. To specifically ban immigrants with refugee status and say that the United States will only welcome people who aren't fleeing wars or persecution inverts the values of the Christian gospels. It specifically rejects the people Jesus told his followers to embrace. For better and for worse, Gianforte has made biblical values a lodestone of his public life. Throwing them over to support Trump puts party loyalty ahead of his religious beliefs.
But even if Gianforte were just a Sunday-morning Christian, he would still be on the horns of a dilemma now. The president's executive order, issued without consulting the DHS and other interested agencies in the usual ways to prepare the usual legal justifications, signals a willingness to ignore established protocol. Trump issued this mostly symbolic order faster than he needed to, in a way that seemed designed to provoke legal challenges. He appears to be intentionally creating a conflict between the executive and judicial branches.
This weekend, members of the House of Representatives who went to Dulles International Airport to demand that customs agents abide by federal-court injunctions were turned away by police. Gianforte aspires to join the House as Montana's representative. As a congressman, does he plan to side with the "Republican/Trump agenda" against Congress? These are choices he must make now, so that Montana voters understand what he intends to do if he does take office.
It's a good thing Gianforte has money and Jesus, because the timing of his announcement and this weekend's incipient crisis suggests he doesn't have much luck. But every crisis is also an opportunity. If he is looking for a chance to make his faith a meaningful part of his public life, this is it. He should repudiate Trump's unconstitutional, anti-Christian ban on refugees and Muslims. He should put himself on the right side of history while he still can. There is a conflict coming between President Trump and the American system of government. Gianforte should take care that he does not choose the wrong side just so he can put himself in the middle of it.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the huddled masses yearning to be whatever at combatblog.net.