As Montana Gov. Steve Bullock stood on the debate stage last week and listened to his 2020 rivals bicker and criticize one another, visions of a second term for President Donald Trump kept flashing through his mind.
“I saw his reelection becoming more likely with each passing minute,” Bullock said Wednesday at the National Press Club. “Please permit me to take everyone out of the ‘Twitterverse’ for at least a minute and bring us back to earth. We cannot defeat Trump’s politics of personal destruction if we practice self-destruction.”
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Driving his point home, he added, “We are well on our way to losing this election long before it ever really has started.”
The Democratic governor of a state that Trump won in 2016 by more than 20 percentage points, Bullock said Democrats need to appeal not only to liberals in Burlington, Vermont, but also folks in Billings, Montana. Against that backdrop, Bullock laid out his thinking on gun control, health care and other topics to a roomful of journalists in Washington.
“I’ve never met a gun owner that doesn’t want to keep their family and community safe,” he said. “If we could look at this as a public health issue, we’d know what we have to do.”
In Montana, more than half of adults keep firearms. A hunter and gun owner himself, Bullock grew up in a time when the National Rifle Association was primarily a hunting organization. But because of dark money and corruption, he said, now “it’s nothing more than a political organization designed to tear us apart” and CEO Wayne LaPierre is a “dweeb in a $1,000 Italian suit.”
The governor supports universal background checks and outlawing high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. It’s a reversal of his position on guns in 2016, and the shift, he said, came after watching students speak at the March for Our Lives rally and after lowering the U.S. flag multiple times to honor shooting victims.
Bullock has spoken about his nephew being killed by a classmate at an elementary school playground more than two decades ago. He supports so-called “red flag” legislation gaining momentum in Congress, though he’s skeptical it will clear the Senate. And he denounced Trump’s rhetoric, which many Democrats say has fostered an atmosphere that makes mass shootings more likely.
On health care, Bullock said calls by other candidates to eliminate private insurance are political suicide in a general election. Voters are looking for practical solutions, he said, and radical plans for government-run health care aren’t helpful.
“It’s now the Democrats calling to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Bullock said. “If you propose abolishing private insurance, you will lose.”
Extending health insurance to undocumented people is also a surefire loser, he said. “We need border security. But we need sanity,” Bullock said. “Every action cannot be a reaction to a Trump.”
A recent Morning Consult poll had Bullock at 1 percent, but he insisted he isn’t worried yet. He plans to keep targeting early states and predicted his background as a successful red-state governor will eventually turn people in his favor.
“I guarantee you if I’m the nominee … I’m going to carry Vermont, Massachusetts and California,” he added. “But I wonder if the senators from Vermont, Massachusetts and California can make same that guarantee of carrying Montana, or Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.”