WASHINGTON ― White nationalist Richard Spencer, riding a post-Trump wave of media fame, is entertaining the idea of running for U.S. Congress. He is considering campaigning for Montana’s at-large congressional seat that would be vacated by Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) if he is confirmed as secretary of interior.
To be clear: Spencer is only thinking about it. He thinks “about lots of things,” he told The Huffington Post on Thursday.
But he noted that “a lot of people were calling me and saying, ‘Oh, you should do it, just do it, this is the moment.’ I’m obviously flattered.”
“I’m taking it very seriously,” he added. “It’s an exciting prospect.”
Zinke is a former Navy SEAL who previously served in the Montana Senate. If he leaves Congress for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet, a special election would likely be held sometime in 2017.
Spencer has never held public office. His experience includes heading the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist “research and educational” foundation. He is also credited with coining the term “alt-right” ― an effort to rebrand white nationalism. Last month, he hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., where he yelled, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” to enthusiastic Nazi salutes from the crowd.
Spencer, who grew up in Dallas, spends some of his time in Whitefish, Montana ― where Zinke is from ― and “a lot of time” in Arlington, Virginia. He claims he is a Montana resident. (The Whitefish City Council, prompted by Spencer’s presence, passed a resolution in support of diversity in 2014.) Although he has some local issues he cares about ― “particularly involving state land” ― he said that if he does run, he would see it as a way to reach a national audience, capitalizing on the attention that Trump’s election has afforded his movement.
“If I did this, it would not be some eccentric campaign that no one talks about and is a footnote to history,” he said. “It would become a major conversation around the country... just because of my profile in the alt-right. Again, I would only do it to win it.”
Montana only has one congressional seat, and in truth, the state isn’t even a sure bet for garden-variety Republicans. (Montana voters just re-elected a Democratic governor.) White nationalists also don’t tend to win statewide political campaigns. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, for example, ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in November and received a dismal 3 percent of the vote.
But the idea that Spencer might court some disgruntled white voters isn’t totally far-fetched. Taylor Rose, the former vice president of the Youth for Western Civilization ― called a racist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center ― ran for a Montana House district seat this year. (Spencer was invited to speak by the Vanderbilt chapter of the Youth for Western Civilization in 2010.) Rose lost, but earned 47 percent of the district vote. He also received support from mainstream Montana Republicans. Greg Gianforte, who was running as the GOP candidate for governor, and his wife, Susan, each gave Rose $170, the maximum donation.
Montana Republican Chairman Jeff Essmann told HuffPost that he hadn’t heard Spencer was considering running. But, he added, “I’m guessing most quarters of the Republican Party in Montana would look skeptically at Mr. Spencer.”
When asked whether he would personally be skeptical of such a run, Essmann replied, “I don’t get a vote in the process, I just chair the meeting.”
A Montana Democratic strategist told HuffPost, “I think that it’s incumbent upon the Montana Republican Party to denounce this immediately, and not entertain the notion of his candidacy at all.”
Spencer acknowledged that prior to the ascent of Trump, who has promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, he would have not considered a political campaign on this level. He didn’t predict a “breakthrough” so soon, he said, or that “we would have been slingshotted into the mainstream by Donald Trump.”
“I just never would have imagined that,” he said.
UPDATE: 4:35 p.m. ― After this article was published, a Trump spokesman asked HuffPost to include the president-elect’s comments disavowing Spencer’s group. Last month, Trump said of the alt-right, “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.” A Trump transition team spokesman also said in November that Trump “has continued to denounce racism of any kind.”
Michael Calderone and Matt Ferner contributed reporting.