In a barn flagged with mock segments of a "border wall" spray-painted with terms like “DRUGS,” “ISIS,” “DACA,” “JOBS” and “HOMBRES,” the Yellowstone County Republicans held their annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner with top-billed guest David A. Clarke, the controversial former sheriff of Milwaukee County.
More than 650 people attended the sold-out event, which also featured U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and the four GOP candidates in the U.S. Senate primary. Those men are vying to run against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat whose name was also up on one of the border walls, crossed out.
The tagline of the fundraising event was “Have a Ball, Build a Wall,” which attendees briefly chanted early in the evening.
Clarke is a firebrand who served as sheriff from 2002-2014. He is known for his controversial views on race, the Black Lives Matter movement and Planned Parenthood, among other topics.
On Friday night he told the crowd they needed to get angry in advance of the 2018 elections.
“We have to regain our sense of urgency about what we’re up against. We have to become angry about the thought of losing this unique opportunity to make America great again," he said.
Clarke rallied the attendees, encouraging them to go out and get people to vote to work to defeat what he called “the deep state," including the FBI.
“The deep state is real, the deep state is alive and it is still doing what it can to thwart President Donald Trump from his vision, which is to make America great again.”
Clarke said special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election threatens to undermine Trump’s presidency.
“This is nothing more than a fishing expedition, as you know. It’s a witch hunt to bog him down in countless investigations. I don’t trust Bob Mueller as far as I can throw him.”
Clarke said it’s his assessment the GOP has lost its edge and that going into this election, it’s the Democrats who have a sense of urgency and anger Republicans had in 2016.
“But you know who’s angry now? It’s not us, it’s not you, it’s Democratic voters,” he said.
Clarke also brought out his attack on "identity politics," saying Democratic leadership in Washington has whipped up “non-white voters” into a frenzy about Trump supporters wanting to establish “white superiority.” He also played to the room, saying that they have been vilified as racist.
“Bull----,” Clarke said.
He ended by calling on the crowd to act, telling them to a standing ovation: "If we allow them to capture the House or the Senate or both, the Trump agenda is over. We cannot let that happen. Can I count on you?"
Neither Daines nor Gianforte, nor any of the primary candidates, mentioned Clarke when addressing the crowd before the former sheriff spoke.
Gianforte spent about equal time talking about his own re-election and the Republican effort against Tester.
“We need a little help back in Washington, that’s why I’m thrilled we have some great candidates here for the Senate seat.”
During his speech, Daines touched on Trump’s record number of appointments to federal appeals courts in the first year of his presidency. He also touted the tax bill passed at the end of last year, the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and discussed his efforts to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks.
The tone of the event was a mix of discussing what speakers like Daines and Gianforte cited as Republican victories under the Trump administration and criticizing Democratic foes like U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
In a break from the political messages of the night, Jodi Moore, the widow of Mason Moore, a Broadwater County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed in the line of duty a little less than a year ago, spoke about the foundation she started to help provide law enforcement officers with training and equipment.
“The foundation will promote and develop communication and understanding between the community and law enforcement and education (for) the public and state and local leaders about what ways in which they can support law enforcement,” Moore told the crowd.
“We want to carry on Mason’s work by protecting those that protect us and helping fund those boots on the ground. By helping love and support those that protect us, we respond in Mason’s way to the hate that took his life," she said.
Immediately after Moore spoke, an event emcee went on to promote a fundraising “jail” in the back of the room.
Conservative radio host Aaron Flint, whose new show "Montana Talks" includes a feature called "Fake News Friday," pointed to a makeshift jail cell near the back of the barn.
“I was hoping Hillary’d be here so we could lock her up,” Flint said.