OUR OPINION: Why 'safe Republican' North Dakota is less safe for Trump

Donald Trump is speaking in Bismarck today. Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer--one of North Dakota's savvier politicians--early on supported Trump.


Donald Trump is speaking in Bismarck today. Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer-one of North Dakota's savvier politicians-early on supported Trump.

But will Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, win North Dakota in November?

If Trump's success at beating the polls, besting 16 experienced rivals and likely capturing the nomination tells us anything, it is that there are no settled truths or absolute certainties in American politics.

Surprising things happen. And if things continue as they are, one of those surprising things might be North Dakota failing to vote Republican in the presidential race, for only the seventh time in the past 125 years.



Because 2016 is turning out to be an election like few others-and those are the elections in which surprising things are most likely to happen.

So, this election more than most, "past experience is no guarantee of future results," as financial analysts like to say.

Here are some reasons why.

Standout elections break molds. "North Dakota has participated in 31 presidential elections, voting Republican in 25 of them," the political website reports.

"Of the five times it went 'blue,' only 1916-Woodrow Wilson's second-term victory-was not a landslide for the Democratic candidate."

The Democratic candidate also won North Dakota in 1912 (Wilson), 1932 and 1936 (FDR both times, with the Great Depression in the background) and 1964 (Lyndon Johnson in the Kennedy assassination's wake).

True, Hillary Clinton seems unlikely to win by a landslide, given that her negative ratings are almost as high as Trump's.

But 2016 remains fluid in important ways. A serious third-party challenger could emerge. Clinton could be indicted, leading to pressure on her to withdraw and an establishment candidate-perhaps Vice President Joe Biden-to run in her place. Rebellious delegates could block Trump's nomination at the GOP convention.


The point is not that these things will happen. The point is that they certainly could happen; and in such a year, all bets about North Dakota's "safe Republican" status are off.

#NeverTrump is a game changer. Trump's most vehement and thought-provoking critics are found not among Democrats, but among conservatives and Republicans. They include David Brooks of The New York Times ( "Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. ... He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa. . . . He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12"); National Review's Jonah Goldberg ("If Trump is the nominee or the president, I will for the first time be working outside the familiar binaries of the two-party system"), and as of Wednesday, Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute: "In my view, Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history."

Meanwhile, in North Dakota, any Republican presidential candidate who has alienated Rob Port-"Donald Trump is an embarrassment ... Trump is a cretin," Port says in his column on today's page-cannot take the state for granted.

Will disaffected Democrats support Trump and thus make up for any refusenik Republicans? Given North Dakota's wage growth, low unemployment and other circumstances that work to cool populist anger, we'd guess the answer is no.

North Dakota often has voted for congressional Democrats, as Heidi Heitkamp, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan's examples show. Ordinarily, their experience wouldn't translate to presidential politics.

But as mentioned, 2016 is no ordinary year. Exceptional circumstances have arisen throughout the primary process. They could make for a trend-busting general election, too.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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