Sen. Jon Tester town hall

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester answers questions during a public town hall meeting in Helena on July2.


That's not it either.

On a national television program, Montana Sen. Jon Tester told Joe Scarborough that the way to beat President Donald J. Trump was to "punch him in the face."

Taken out of context, the statement would seem to advocate physical violence against the President. In context, Tester was speaking metaphorically about the need to stand up boldly to Trump, and be just as adamant and vehement as Trump can be.

Regardless, meeting Trump's over-the-top rhetoric with equally bluster only continues to up the ante. In the firebomb exchange culture and overheated political rhetoric of Washington D.C., politicians of all political parties engage in a fight-fire-with-fire mindset.

That's disappointing, wrong, and dangerous.

Suggesting that we punch anyone in the face, president or otherwise, is simply not acceptable. 

We call on Tester to apologize, and recognize that without a de-escalation of words, we may be on the verge of someone internalizing these words and taking action.

Tester — more so than anyone — should know about the danger of politics turning violent. It was in Montana where Rep. Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter when the now congressman didn't like a line of questioning. And, Tester also watched Trump seem to encourage that behavior when the president visited Missoula.

We condemned Gianforte's actions and we castigated Trump. We cannot give Tester a free pass just because we have been disgusted by the president's tweets. And we must not risk normalizing this type of talk as hyperbole because, God forbid, someone takes these politicians at their word and actually acts on them.

Wrong is wrong. And wrong is even suggesting the answer to political disagreement can be taken care of by throwing a punch. It's not right when Trump does it, so it can't be right, acceptable or even explainable with Tester says it.

Context, Tester supporters may argue, says that he was speaking metaphorically; that Montanans and those who would disagree with the President should respond just as forcefully and stand up for what they believe in. Yet, our leaders must set the tone. They must be called upon to choose their words responsibly, knowing that what they say will set the standard for what people do.

"I think those — the kind of issues that really hit home, how you’re going to invest in infrastructure and how you’re going to pay for it, I think those are the issues that really will move the folks who will get you elected," Tester said. "I don’t think, even in states where Donald Trump won big, that it does you any good running away from Donald Trump. I think you need to go back and punch him in the face. I mean the truth is this guy is bad for this country."

We're worried that this kind of chatter does two dangerous things. 

First, by suggesting that someone punch Trump in the face there will be many who refuse to listen to anything Tester has to say, simply because he said this. In other words, his criticism, no matter how legitimate, may be completely undercut by his vitriol. That's too bad because we believe Tester often has instructive criticism of the President. There will be some who see these comments as just another example of partisan politics, and will discount Tester's comments.

Finally, we condemn his words, even if they were metaphor. Tester, who lives national politics daily, should know better than anyone else the overheated nature. He's been on Capitol Hill when members of Congress are targeted. He's seen what happens in Montana when his colleague in the House took to assaulting a reporter. We would have hoped these moments would have caused him to urge less punching and more thinking. 

We believe Trump has left himself so incredibly vulnerable to criticism that it seems like a wasted opportunity for Tester to have suggested something more sophisticated and thoughtful.

Senator, you can do better.

Get News Alerts delivered directly to you.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.