MINOT, N.D. — For decades many North Dakota Republicans have wondered why we even elect a state treasurer.
The office has a tiny staff and few responsibilities, most of which consist of sitting on state boards.
There have been efforts in the past to eliminate the office, though they've failed, mostly because it seems North Dakotans just really like voting on things. Including electing people to offices with little in the way of actual policy-making authority.
Yet, in 2020, the NDGOP has turned the treasurer's race into a proxy battle amid Republican factions.
On one side are Gov. Doug Burgum and his preferred candidate for the office, state Rep. Thomas Beadle of Fargo. On the other side are U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer and his candidate, state Rep. Dan Johnston of Kathryn.
This competition is getting a surprising amount of attention given the limited impact this race has on how the state is governed.
What might have been a hyperlocal, in-the-weeds, intraparty struggle now, suddenly, has a national spotlight.
On Saturday, pillow entrepreneur turned political celebrity Mike Lindell endorsed Johnston in the race:
Today the president of the United States himself, Donald J. Trump, through a Twitter shout-out Johnston's way:
I'd say that a term like "bizarre" is insufficient for this situation, but we live in the Trump era.
What's even bizarre any more, in the political world?
Johnston has Cramer's backing, and through that, the support of Trump's political movement, but Beadle is not without friends. He has Burgum backing his campaign. However, given the ham-handed way Burgum has gone about using his wealth to try and influence political outcomes this cycle, and given Trump's popularity in North Dakota generally, I'd say Johnston has the advantage.
It will be interesting to see how well Johnston holds up under the smoldering spotlight an endorsement from a sitting president brings.
Johnston has some financial struggles in his background -- perhaps understandable, they do not exactly commend someone to a position like treasurer -- but more troubling are some of his antics on Facebook.
In January I noted that an account shared by Johnston and his wife had given a "LOL" to a joke about a car getting stolen at a black church:
Johnston's account was also used to publish a joke about former President Barack Obama being a Muslim:
Johnston is also a member of at least one Qanon conspiracy theory page:
"As far as the posts go, I don't recall them," Johnston told me in January of the racial jokes.
"I don't doubt that's the case," he added when I asked if they were authentic, "but I don't recall them."
How about the Qanon conspiracy? "Oh, sure," Johnston replied when I asked him if he was a follower.
He declined to comment beyond that.
What's odd, though not an atypical bit of hypocrisy from Republicans in the Trump era, is that Johnston portrays himself as a profoundly Christian candidate -- a proponent of family values -- and the conservative choice in the treasurer's race. Yet he's seemingly not opposed to crude and cruel racial jokes, and his campaign will now revel in the endorsement of a serial adulterer who may be an enthusiastic supporter of tax cuts but is hardly a fiscal conservative.
I understand that Trump is a manifestation of the American right's inflamed id, and I'm even sympathetic to a point about why that is, but when did Republicans stop standing for the things they've always said they stand for?
This treasurer's race may be a small but heated proxy fight among North Dakota Republicans, but it's also a symbol of the way Republicans, nationally, seem to have lost sight of what it is they're for.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.