U.S. Sen. Steve Daines lies admirably low when Montana’s political shifts demand it. Yet between tweeted bromides to firefighter funding and rural broadband —  Daines, don’t you know those middle-class-boosting efforts cost money that could otherwise be given away as tax cuts to corporations and your fellow insanely rich? — slinks something sinister.

Donald Trump’s actions have caused his support in Montana to crumble to 3% net approval (50-47% in the latest Morning Consult state poll. He won the state in 2016 with nearly 21% net approval).

Why? Because Montanans, a virtue of whom is "not being fools," actually know that tariffs are taxes on Americans, and that resulting buy-offs to farmers are just, well, buy-offs. “Pay hush money” is second only to “deliver unhinged press conferences” on the list of what corrupt Donnie Trump does well. But no one with even a cow’s limited understanding of economics wants garbage passed off as feed. So Daines has recently paid more attention to his constituents than to his political master.

Until, that is, Daines tried to sneak in a proposal (guest column, May 21) that is as dishonest and politically corrupt as his professed reasons for proposing it.

According to a May 30 federal court filing, a Republican operative and expert on disenfranchising Democratic voters named Thomas B. Hofeller advised the Trump administration that adding a question about citizenship to the census “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” (The case as to whether adding the question is legal is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hofeller is now, for the record, dead.) For the extreme right, this is simply an attempt to alter the Constitution’s mandate so that they gain and hold onto greater power.

And Steve Daines is in on it, back to assuming his constituents are fools.

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, 74% of all immigrants in the U.S. are authorized and fully legal. They pay taxes and do jobs that citizens largely won’t. Our economy needs them. But by omitting this fact, Daines’s sloppy column disingenuously attempts two things. One, to scare Montanans and make us think he’s only out to exclude “criminal illegal immigrants.” He doesn’t care about legal or illegal; his proposal would not help count the 74%. It’s a typical tactic of Republicans. Two, he pretends we don’t know how many citizens and non-citizens are in the country. We do know. We have plenty of tools for determining that, and the census ain’t one.

The census doesn't ask about citizenship for good reason: the Constitution requires everyone be counted, period. Got a problem with that? Go fight the Framers. There are more effective ways to determine the non-citizen population: the Migration Policy Institute, for instance, has no problem doing the math.

This is what Republicans in the Trump era do. They come up with an idea or policy that will cement their power but that goes against American values, and they couch it in language that makes you think, “Oh yeah, that sounds reasonable.” But their real purposes are not reasonable: they are extreme. And they count on you not to explore the issue deeply enough to recognize how harmfully un-American the idea or policy is. The only solution — the Citizen’s Mission — is to delve into it, to see through Republican (and their propagandists’) smoke-screens.

The citizenship question ain't "right for Montana.” It's right for Republican hacks, looking for any means to disenfranchise Democrats, Independents, young people and people of color. That's un-American and unconstitutional, yet that's what Republicans are really after. No amount of white-washing the fence by our seemingly milquetoast senator will obscure that.

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Jon-Claud Nix is a former Marine Corps officer. He worked previously in national security and economic policy and politics, and now resides in Missoula.

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