Like most things in politics today, Montana House race is a referendum on Donald Trump

EAST HELENA, Mont. — After losing a close election last year with a campaign that barely mentioned the words “Donald Trump,” Greg Gianforte appears to have learned his lesson.

Possibly too well.

As the Republican candidate for governor, Gianforte, a billionaire technology entrepreneur from Bozeman, ran as far away as possible from Trump’s chaotic presidential bid. He declined to publicly endorse him after he was the party’s presumptive nominee. And he skipped the New York businessman’s lone visit to the state last May, issuing a press release that didn’t even use Trump’s name. (“Gianforte Welcomes Presidential Candidate to Montana,” the headline read.)

Though Gianforte later said he supported Trump as the GOP nominee, he rarely spoke of the former reality television star at his campaign events. And that support became even more tepid after a tape emerged of Trump making vulgar comments about women during a 2005 interview with “Access Hollywood.” Gianforte condemned Trump’s remarks and said he would only “reluctantly” continue to back the GOP nominee’s campaign because he didn’t want to see Hillary Clinton win the presidency. “This is all the more reason we need to have effective leadership at the state level,” Gianforte said at the time.

In November, Trump won Montana in a blowout, defeating Hillary Clinton by 20 points, and his victory had coattails. Republicans retained control of the state legislature and won every statewide office, except for one: by a margin of less than four points, Gianforte narrowly lost to Gov. Steve Bullock, the incumbent Democrat.

Many Republicans here still think Gianforte could have pulled off a party sweep had he cozied up to Trump a little more during the campaign. And Gianforte now evidently agrees. As a candidate in the special election to fill Montana’s single U.S. House seat, the former tech CEO is fully on the “Trump Train,” as he often puts it, presenting himself as an unwavering ally…

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