[Update 05/10/18: Sometime after this story was published, the tweet this ad was embedded in was deleted and the commercial appears to have disappeared from Facebook and YouTube. We have reached out to the Russ Fagg campaign for comment and will update if and when we hear back.]
With the bar for the quality of political ads already being as low as it is, it takes a concerted effort to out-crazy the competition and stand out among the racists, boot-lickers, and gun-kissers who make up the Republican Party at large. But every now and again one manages to cut through the noise, arriving so perfectly conceived in its insanity that the country can’t look away. That’s the case in the latest from Russ Fagg.
Fagg, a former Montana judge, is currently engaged in a crowded Republican primary race for the opportunity to face off against incumbent senator John Tester, a Democrat, in November. It’s a race that many have called likely to flip toward Republicans (Trump won the state by 20 points in 2016), and as such, Fagg has decided to focus on the issues that appeal directly to Montanans. No, not agriculture, or veterans affairs, or gun issues, but the famous and well-known direct pipeline from El Salvador to Helena. MS-13, Fagg warns us, is coming to kill us all.
Tester, who has touted his ability to work with the president, was last heard from on the national stage being hammered by Trump after he brought forth allegations of unethical behavior against his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to draft off Trump’s attacks against Tester, Fagg has apparently decided to also pull a page from his xenophobic greatest hits.
Compared to an ad from Fagg’s opponent Troy Downing, in which he touted his manly bonafides as a fighter pilot and a Trump friend as compared to Tester, who plays the trumpet like a, well, you get the implication, this was some serious on-the-nose outright racism.
While the hard xenophobic turn from Fagg has somewhat surprised some close observers of the race in Montana, it probably shouldn’t have. The longtime judge has been expressing similar views for years. In his “Ask the Judge” column in the Billings Gazette back in May of last year, Fagg wrote about the scourge of gang members flooding the streets of Billings.
“I recall about two decades ago when gangs such as the Bloods and Crips first came to town, law enforcement would arrest them if they jaywalked, littered, or had a taillight out," he wrote. "They got the picture they were not welcome, and many left.”
In a column from December 2014, he weighed in on the protests against police violence in Ferguson with a grossly offensive joke.
“In Ferguson, property was destroyed, looting was rampant, lives endangered, and chaos reigned. (As an aside, I did hear of all the things stolen, not one pair of work boots was stolen.)”
In the rest of that column, weirdly, he praises Judge G. Todd Baugh as a “wonderful person.” At the time Baugh had caused a national uproar when he sentenced a teacher to 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide. The girl, Baugh said during sentencing, was “older than her chronological age.”
As if all that isn’t enough Trumpism, Fagg came under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for playing coy with his decision to run late last year. He was widely criticized in the state for running a shadow campaign, which he called an exploratory committee, while holding his seat on the bench.
“I set up the exploratory committee and gave four months resignation notice because it was (and is) the right thing to do,” Fagg responded to criticism. “I wanted to finish this job I have been blessed with for 22 years well. I could have avoided these questions by suddenly resigning. I did not want to do that and leave thousands of litigants in the lurch.”
He may not have wanted to. But he did, leaving a backlog of 1,100 open cases he never got around to sorting out. Not his problem apparently. He’s even picked up on Trump's sloppiness, putting out campaign material riddled with typos.
Fagg currently trails behind State Auditor Matt Rosendale, the presumptive favorite, who has the backing of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Breitbart, and is no stranger to weird ads himself, including one where he infamously shot down a government drone with a rifle. A poll conducted by the Club for Growth PAC last month found Rosendale held a 23 point lead over the good judge, although there have been questions about the poll's legitimacy, as the PAC has also specifically endorsed Rosendale in the race.
As we’ve seen around the country this year, Republicans have been eager to replicate the success of Trump by appealing to his nationalist base. In the cases of Roy Moore and Don Blankenship, who put out his own truly bizarre ad last week about “China-people” before ultimately losing in West Virginia, sometimes being a giant racist piece of shit isn’t enough to push you over the top. You need to offer voters something else. That way they can kid themselves into thinking that’s not specifically why they’re voting for you in the first place.
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