THE MORNING PLUM:

The GOP candidate in the Montana special House election was charged with misdemeanor assault late Wednesday night, after allegedly body-slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian. The candidate, Greg Gianforte, grew incensed after being asked an impertinent question about whether he supports the GOP’s brutalization of our health-care system — and rather than answer, he allegedly brutalized the reporter.

According to audio of the event and an eyewitness account from several Fox News staffers, Jacobs asked Gianforte for his reaction to the new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the health-care bill that recently passed the House. Gianforte had previously declined to take a position on it. Gianforte then seems to have slammed Jacobs to the ground, breaking his glasses. It’s unclear whether Jacobs’s question about the CBO analysis, or his persistence in posing it — only hours before the voting on Thursday — is what triggered Gianforte’s wrath.

What makes this whole episode even more ludicrous, however, is that Gianforte himself had previously said that he would comment on the GOP health bill, once he saw the CBO score.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner just after the GOP bill passed the House in early May, Gianforte declined to say whether he backed the measure, saying: “Personally, I would have liked to have seen CBO results prior to voting.” He added, however, that “we have to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

On Wednesday, at Gianforte’s headquarters in Bozeman, Mont., Jacobs asked Gianforte whether he supports the GOP bill, now that we have seen the CBO results. Gianforte declined to answer, then said: “Let me talk to you about that later.” After that, as the audio captures, the scuffle started. According to the Fox team’s account, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” then “began punching the reporter.”

This is rather at odds with the Gianforte campaign’s statement, which claims that, after Jacobs aggressively shoved a recorder in Gianforte’s face, “Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.” (That would be quite a spinning and pushing maneuver.) In contrast, the Fox team claims that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

In a sense, Gianforte was employing a version of the evasion that many Republicans have performed on Obamacare for years. They have consistently said that of course they want to repeal the disastrous Affordable Care Act, but don’t worry, they will replace it with something that offers all the good stuff in it (the protections for consumers and people with preexisting conditions, the expansion of coverage to the poor) without any of the bad (the taxes, the regulations, the mandates). This worked beautifully, as long as Republicans could demand the repeal of Obamacare, secure in the knowledge that they would never have to deal with the actual consequences of it happening, or explain how their alternative would do what they said it would.

The CBO score has upended this tidy little arrangement as brutally as Gianforte allegedly upended Jacobs. Even after the GOP bill was written and passed the House, Republicans continued to employ a variation on that evasion, falsely claiming that no low-income people would be worse off (they would have access to coverage) or that the bill would increase protections for the sick. But the CBO now projects that it would leave 23 million fewer insured after 10 years; that 14 million of those people, the poorer ones, would lose coverage due to a staggering $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid; and that its deregulatory provisions could cause premiums to soar for people with preexisting conditions in large swaths of the country, pricing some out of the market entirely.

Gianforte had suggested in early May that he would declare whether he supports the GOP bill once he hears from the CBO. This month, he was caught on audio praising the bill during a phone call with lobbyists, and his campaign again declined to say publicly whether he backs it (pending the CBO analysis), suggesting it is politically too radioactive even for Montana. Yet now that we do have the CBO score, as best as I can determine, Gianforte still has not answered Jacobs’s question. And this is hardly an academic one: If Gianforte wins today, he will soon very well have to vote on a version of the GOP repeal-and-replace bill — one that emerges from negotiations between the House and Senate, if the latter can pass something — that would do much of what the current GOP bill does.

Can a Republican get elected to the House of Representatives after being charged with assault and despite refusing to say whether he will vote for a bill that would impact many millions of people and one-sixth of the U.S. economy? We’ll soon find out.

* REPUBLICANS SILENT ON GIANFORTE FIGHT: BuzzFeed tries to get Republicans to comment on the alleged assault, with no luck:

BuzzFeed News has reached out to representatives with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s political team, with the National Republican Congressional Committee, and with the Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund. Each group has a stake in the outcome of Thursday’s contest between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. And each group was silent in response.

However, one GOP operative was willing to say to BuzzFeed that the alleged assault is “unreal,” though only anonymously.

* NEWSPAPERS PULL ENDORSEMENTS OF GIANFORTE: Jonathan Martin notes this about the aftermath of the alleged attack:

Three of the state’s largest newspapers, The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian and The Helena Independent Record, quickly rescinded their endorsements of Mr. Gianforte. But prospects that the altercation could tip the race to the Democrat, Rob Quist, were complicated by Montana’s early-voting tradition: Over half the estimated total ballots in the contest had been returned by Wednesday.

And so, Gianforte could still very well win this race.

* REPUBLICANS FEAR MONTANA CONTEST IS TIGHT: David Drucker reports that some Republicans are worried:

“It’s definitely within 5 points,” said a GOP operative following the race, on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly. “There’s a very real scenario where it’s too close to call on Election Night.”

I’m skeptical that Democrat Rob Quist can win, but after the alleged assault, you never know.

* RUSSIANS DISCUSSED HOW TO INFLUENCE TRUMP: The New York Times scoops that American intelligence collected information showing that Russian officials discussed how to influence Trump and advisers Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn:

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn.

The key question now is whether Russians did work directly with any Trump campaign officials — they both deny collusion — and this is now a matter for the special counsel.

* ANOTHER POLL FINDS TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: A new Fox News poll finds Trump’s approval at 40-53. And:

A large 44 percent minority says he’s just doing what he was elected to do — shake up Washington. A majority, 53 percent, thinks Trump’s bumpy start shows his presidency is coming apart.

But 90 percent of Trump voters, and 84 percent of Republicans, say Trump’s presidency isn’t falling apart, but rather that he’s doing what he was elected to do. So it’s all good.

* AMERICANS BROADLY APPROVE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL: The new Fox News poll also finds that 68 percent approve of the appointment of the special counsel; that 53 percent say former FBI director James B. Comey should not have been fired; and that 60 percent say he was fired because his probe was hurting the Trump presidency.

Interestingly, even Trump voters are somewhat mixed on these topics: 68 percent of them say Comey should have been fired, but a surprisingly high 43 percent of them approve of the special counsel.

* TAX REFORM HITS ANOTHER SNAG: Bloomberg reports that Democrats say Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately told them that he does not support the border adjustment tax that Paul Ryan wants. Here’s why this matters:

The border adjustment portion of the House leaders’ tax plan is estimated to raise more than $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade — helping to pay for cuts to the corporate and individual income-tax rates that the GOP also wants. Writing a revenue-neutral tax bill is important to Republicans, who plan to move the legislation through the Senate without any Democratic votes. To achieve that aim, Senate rules require that the bill can’t increase the federal deficit in the long run.

Deficit, schmeficit. Something tells us Republicans will figure out a way around this niggling problem and get those tax cuts done.

We demean ourselves if we cynically normalize the reality that every Trump promise is meaningless claptrap aimed at closing a deal — and that the vows will be forgotten even before the ink on the agreement is dry … This is a man who sees his job as little more than spectacle, his word as negotiable and all numbers as fungible. The scandal of his presidency extends far beyond the Russia story.

Absolutely right. The rot of bad faith runs very deep with this administration, and it is all-pervasive.