Ryan Zinke is the new Republican congressman for the state of Montaha. Darren Ehrlick, editor of the Billings Gazette, recently published an op-ed discussing the campaign between Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, and John Lewis, a former legislative aide to Democrat Max Baucus, and the leaking of an off-the-cuff comment from the Lewis camp.
In the op-ed, “Using an off-hand remark to play gotcha is politicking worthy of gutter,” Ehrlick explained his displeasure of a comment made by Zinke that was eventually leaked to Alan Zarembo of the Los Angeles Times by the Lewis camp, and appeared in a story that ran on October 24.
The Times article discussed a scene before Lewis and Zinke were to debate on stage. When the moderator (Ehrlick) joked with Lewis about his penchant for playing the guitar, Zinke quipped, "John plays the guitar. I waterboard." According to Ehrlick, only four people heard the comment.
From Ehrlick’s op-ed:
It was, I can only assume, a remark borne out of levity or nervousness. For weeks leading up to the debate, I had been joking with the Lewis camp about how to fill the entire hourlong forum after Zinke had originally bowed out of the debate. Someone suggested that Lewis could play a guitar to help fill the 59-minute session. Several times after that comment was made, I jabbed the Lewis campaign about John needing to brush up on his guitar work…
I didn't get the chance to follow up on the comment because I was preparing to take the stage and introduce the candidates. It was simply a passing comment.
Was it a self-deprecating crack? A joke? A veiled threat?
Who knows? And who cares?
Well, obviously who cares is the Lewis camp. They decided to leak the comment to the L.A. Times, which used it as part of a larger story on Zinke that examined how candidates use their military records in a run for public office.
I can only guess it wasn't the story the Lewis folks had hoped for. And, it wasn't the first time Zinke had talked about waterboarding. Quite frankly, Zinke's military records have been a key part of this congressional campaign. However, no one has asked or seriously broached the subject of Zinke and waterboarding. I suspect that there's a group of Montana voters who would like Zinke more if it was true he knew how to waterboard. The off-the-cuff comment was leaked to one of the largest papers in America. I guess the campaign hoped there'd be a story that said: Zinke jokes about torture.
That clearly didn't happen.
But it's exactly these tactics and no regard for context that leaves such a bad taste with voters. For a campaign that has tried to paint itself as above the fray, the Lewis folks stooped pretty low. Trying to use an off-hand remark to play gotcha is politicking worthy of the gutter.
Quite frankly, it smacks of desperation.