Some Montana Republicans and GOP insiders are airing their frustration with Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), who may soon be angling for a promotion after he was one of eight lawmakers who helped topple Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as House speaker earlier this week.
The growing angst comes as Rosendale contemplates a second run for Senate in Montana, which could buck Republican leaders’ plans to clear the field for their preferred candidate, Bridger Aerospace CEO and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, to take on vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) next year. Rosendale, one of the most conservative House members, failed to unseat Tester in 2018.
“The McCarthy stuff certainly shows that Rosendale has an inability to function well in DC,” said Erik Iverson, a former chairman of the Montana Republican Party. “When you’re one of 4% of your caucus, and the other 96% disagrees with you. That doesn’t motivate voters to send you to Washington D.C. or give you a promotion to the Senate.”
Rosendale has been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans for months. He opposed McCarthy’s speaker bid and helped contribute to the five-day, 15-vote floor fight that ensued in January. Last spring, he voted against suspending the debt ceiling. He was one of nearly a dozen rabble-rousers who paralyzed the House early this summer after rejecting a procedural move to set rules for legislative debate as retribution for McCarthy’s role in making a deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the debt limit. He also voted against a temporary government funding bill to keep the government open over the weekend. Then, Rosendale joined a handful of Republicans in casting the decisive vote Tuesday to oust McCarthy from his position as speaker.
“It’s just disqualifying for him. Nobody wants that man in the Senate. He starts fires wherever he goes,” said a Senate Republican aide, speaking on his background. “His vote to oust McCarthy has real-world implications and sets us back weeks with government funding and Ukraine. If anything, he should lose his committee assignments and potentially be expelled.”
Rosendale defended his vote to oust McCarthy, referencing how the speaker relied upon Democratic votes to pass the continuing resolution over the weekend, which ultimately prevented a government shutdown.
“Unfortunately it had to be done. You cannot take legislation and depend upon more Democrat votes when you’re the Republican majority, okay,” Rosendale said during an appearance on News Nation on Wednesday. “You cannot depend upon more Democrat votes as speaker of the House and pass that and not believe that there’s going to be blowback.”
Tensions were rising earlier this week over reports the Montana congressman told donors that he had been “praying” that Republicans would win only a narrow majority in the House during the 2022 midterm elections.
“When a lot of people, unfortunately, were voting to have a 270, 280 Republican House, I was praying each evening for a small majority because I recognize that that small majority was the only way that we were going to advance a conservative agenda,” Rosendale said to the group, which was reported by the Messenger.
“Rosendale seems more concerned with in-party fighting. He seems more concerned with personal ambition than solving problems. That’s the larger issue,” Iverson added. “He aligned himself with Joe Biden in 2020 and prayed for Republican losses in the House, prayed for as tiny of a majority as possible.”
“Montanans are really smart,” Iverson continued. “They can see raw personal ambition for what it is. That’s what that was and it’s just game over for him. That’s all you need to know.”
The backlash began growing Tuesday night among senators, hours after Rosendale voted to strip McCarthy of his gavel.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tore into Rosendale, citing the story about Rosendale’s comments to donors.
“Maryland Matt Rosendale prays for Democrats to win elections,” Cotton questioned.
“Did God answer his prayers in 2018 when Jon Tester humiliated him?” Cotton continued. “This is just one of many, many reasons that Maryland Matt won’t come within a country mile of the Senate.”
In 2018, Tester’s campaign tried to brand the Baltimore-accented Rosendale as an outsider, slamming his Maryland roots and calling him “Maryland Matt.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), head of the committee in charge of helping Republicans win Senate races, had already made it clear he’d like Rosendale to stay out of a potential Montana Senate GOP primary after he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had been working for months to recruit Sheehy.
“I didn’t realize that Matt Rosendale and Nancy Pelosi attended the same prayer group,” Daines said to reporters on Tuesday, following the vote.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) also made the case against Rosendale’s potential Senate plans on X, writing, “While most Republicans were praying for a red wave, Rosendale was praying for a small majority.”
“Once again, Matt Rosendale is siding with Democrats to defeat fellow Republicans,” he added, a veiled dig at Rosendale’s vote to oust McCarthy with seven Republicans and all Democrats. “Montana can elect a true conservative, and take back the Senate. Vote @SheehyforMT.”
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Rosendale pushed back against the growing criticism.
“The proof is in the pudding. We have been able to pass the most conservative agenda in recent history, and that is due solely to having a small majority of committed, principled individuals,” he said, without acknowledging whether he will run for the Montana Senate seat.
“I am tired of being lectured by people who have been here for decades and have been the architects of the $33 trillion national debt we currently face,” he added.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Rosendale’s Montana counterpart in the House, slammed his colleague, calling his vote to oust McCarthy “political theater [that] moves the needle in the opposite direction and prolongs Biden’s awful policies across the board.”
“You can’t complain about smoke from the fire when you’re the one holding the matches,” Zinke said, speaking to a local Montana television station. “Vacating the chair is a waste of time all due to personal disagreements, when we should be doing our jobs and funding the government, defending our country and securing our border. We’re here to build, not burn.”
Others in the party are also conveying a similar message, stressing his recent actions will not bode well for him in a Republican Senate primary.
“Matt Rosendale worked with Democrats to oust a popular Republican Speaker of the House. He also worked with Democrats to stop legislation that would have resumed construction on President Trump’s border wall,” said a national GOP strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity in an effort to reflect candidly on the situation. “Conservative voters in Montana are going to find out all about Rosendale’s RINO behavior if he decides to run for Senate.”
In a blow to Rosendale’s Senate aspirations, the Club for Growth, a conservative political organization that has been a major player in Republican primaries in recent election cycles, seemingly walked back its plan to support Rosendale in the race in late July, calling Sheehy an “impressive candidate.” The group did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who had previously endorsed Rosendale’s 2018 Senate bid, did not care to weigh in on how the congressman’s vote to overthrow McCarthy could affect his chances of winning a Senate primary or whether he would support his candidacy if he decides to run.
“I have nothing to say right now. Reach out to my office,” Cruz said in the hallway on Thursday afternoon.
The senator’s office did not have anything further to add.