Rep. Matt Rosendale's Meteoric Fall From MAGA Grace

On the heels of a Senate campaign that lasted less than a week, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) has announced he will not seek reelection for his House seat in 2024.
On the heels of a Senate campaign that lasted less than a week, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) has announced he will not seek reelection for his House seat in 2024. Tom Williams via Getty Images

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) had high political aspirations. Then, suddenly, he had none.

In the span of a month, the hard-right MAGA conservative launched a repeat Senate campaign, promptly ended it, filedfor reelection in the House, and then on Friday dropped that bid, citing death threats to his family and “defamatory rumors” about an alleged affair with a member of his staff.

In a statement Friday, Rosendale said he’s “been forced to have law enforcement visit my children because of a death threat against me and false and defamatory rumors against me and my family.”

“This has taken a serious toll on me, and my family,” he went on. “Additionally, it has caused a serious disruption to the election of the next Representative for MT-02.”

Rosendale’s political nosedive was as quick as it was messy. 

On Feb. 9, after months of speculation, Rosendale launched a second bid to try to oust Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in November, vowing to take on the “Washington establishment” and emphasizing his loyalty to former President Donald Trump. Hours later, however, Trump endorsed Rosendale’s primary opponent Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and wealthy businessman, in the race.

That blow came on the heels of U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) backpedaling on his planned endorsement of Rosendale, reportedly after he received blowback from high-profile Republicans who have rallied around Sheehy. 

Six days after mounting his Senate campaign, Rosendale shut it down and blamed Trump. 

“By my calculations, with Trump endorsing my opponent and the lack of resources, the hill was just too steep,” he said in a statement at the time, adding that he would be taking time with his family to consider next steps. 

Trump endorsed Rosendale in 2018 when he ran for Senate, and again in 2022 when he was reelected to the House. But in a post to his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump said Sheehy was best positioned to defeat Tester in November.

“I also respect Matt Rosendale, and was happy to Endorse him in the past ― and will endorse him again in the future should he decide to change course and run for his Congressional Seat,” Trump wrote. 

That was Rosendale’s plan — until Friday. 

Late last month, Rosendale’s office threatened to sue former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for defamation after she claimed that Rosendale ended his Senate bid because he’d gotten a member of his staff pregnant.

“Just to gossip a little bit, there’s a reason why Rosendale backed out of that Senate race,” Heitkamp said during an interview on the podcast “Talking Feds with Harry Litman” released Feb. 26. “The rumor is that he impregnated a 20-year-old staff person.”

Rosendale’s office called the allegation “100% false and defamatory” and threatened legal action.

“The current attacks have made it impossible for me to focus on my work to serve you,” Rosendale said Friday. “So, in the best interest of my family and the community, I am withdrawing from the House race and will not be seeking office.”

Rosendale’s exit follows a lengthy political career in Montana and Washington. Prior to his two terms in the U.S. House, he served in both Montana’s state House and state Senate, and held the office of Montana state auditor. He ran unsuccessfully for Tester’s Senate seat in 2018. Trump traveled to Montana to campaign for Rosendale several times during that race.

In Congress, Rosendale made his mark as an ultraconservative firebrand. He is a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and last year joined seven other House Republicans in voting to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He also made headlines last year when he posed for a photograph outside the U.S. Capitol alongside two well-known white supremacists.

The race for Montana’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers the state’s central and eastern regions, has drawn a crowded field of candidates. At least seven Republicans and two Democrats have announced bids. Most recently, former congressman and Montana lieutenant governor Dennis Rehberg launched a campaign for Rosendale’s seat.