Until Wednesday, Greg Gianforte's life had followed a lovely script: he twice sold software companies for millions, the second time for US$1.5bn when Oracle acquired CRM company RightNow Technologies.
Gianforte used the resulting wealth and profile to champion the conservative causes he cares about and last year ran for the governorship of Montana. That bid failed, but then one of Montana's seats in Congress became available due to incumbent Ryan Zinke being appointed Donald Trump's secretary of the interior. Gianforte became the Republican Party's candidate and, despite a tight race, was widely felt to be on track to take a seat in Congress at a special election due on Thursday. Part of his appeal was his success as an entrepreneur.
Then came the altercation recorded below, in which Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs recorded being “bodyslammed” and punched by Gianforte after the candidate took exception and unexpected questions about his position on US health care policy. The incident took place on election eve.
Just what happened before the recording above begins is not clear. Gianforte's campaign says Jacobs was not invited to the event, hectored the candidate and may have been uncomfortably close to Gianforte when he put his questions.
But there's agreement on the fact that Gianforte then struck Jacobs, because Fox News was in the room and has corroborated the events in Jacobs' audio.
Yes, that's the same Fox News that generally finds it hard to find fault in politicians from the right.
Gianforte's since been charged with misdemeanor assault, with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office finding probable cause for that charge, but not felony assault. He is therefore facing a fine of up to $500, or up to six months in the county jail, or both.
Local media such as the the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian had previously backed Gianforte, but have now rescinded their endorsement. They now suggest that someone hot-headed enough to berate a reporter, never mind hit them, might not be a great fit as a legislator.
All of which is a bit of a problem for Donald Trump because what Jacobs wanted to know was whether Gianforte would vote for the president's health care bill. Many analyses of that bill suggest it will see millions left without affordable insurance, which isn't what Trump promised. It's felt that a loss for Gianforte would be seen as an early repudiation of the Trump's health care plan and perhaps also his wider agenda.
Many successful entrepreneurs are hard-charging people with aggressive streaks. But the technology industry has, of late, begun to push back against such traits as they tend to seep into the companies entrepreneurs lead with damaging results that deter customers, workers and investors. And perhaps political parties too: who'd have a tech millionaire on their ticket after Uber's travails or Gianforte's wrestling moves? ®