SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month



Port: Trumpian obstinance, backed by Republicans like Sen. Cramer, is making conservatives look silly

When did conservatism become about nothing more than annoying liberals?

Kevin Cramer speaks alongside President Donald Trump on June 27 at Scheels Arena in Fargo. Trump came to the city twice to campaign for Cramer, who unseated incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in November. Forum file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINOT, N.D. — Perhaps Donald Trump's greatest contribution to the Republican Party's legacy will be a shift, prompted by his rise to the presidency, from a conservatism defined by a platform of ideas that annoy liberals to simply annoying liberals.

With the budget deficit now measured in the trillions, and the bulk of his policies implemented through the sort of executive fiats that Republicans abhorred when Barack Obama was doing it, I think it's safe to say that Trump is not a conservative.

I'm not even sure he's a populist, though I've often called him that.

Trump is an opportunistic troll who has capitalized on cultural divides that existed and were widening long before his 2016 campaign.

Nowhere is this concept on clearer display than the insipid argument we're having about masks.


The logic behind wearing a mask amid a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus is inescapable.

Masks aren't a silver bullet; they do help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The virus has killed hundreds of North Dakotans, hundreds of thousands of Americans, and contributed to no small amount of suffering for many more, so why wouldn't we want to do something that helps?

Sen. Kevin Cramer, an outspoken Trump ally, as we all know, was interviewed by Axios reporter Jim VandeHei for an HBO series and was asked why the president hasn't been more consistent defining the pandemic as a serious threat and promoting mask use.

There's not a really good answer for that question, which is why the typically eloquent Cramer floundered in response:

"I know there are a lotta people that, if he created a mask mandate, wouldn't have worn a mask," Cramer said at one point in his meandering answer, choosing to conflate the promotion of mask use with a mask mandate.


There is a logical conservative argument to be made against the government using force — that, after all, is what all mandates come down to — to make Americans wear masks.

"Part of the freedom that he supports so strong are states' rights, federalism," Cramer also said. "Now you may not like how he talks about it, but he does talk about individual freedoms, and local control of things in a meaningful way that frankly draws a lot of the support."

This, again, is beside the point. Federalism is one of our nation's founding ideals, and there is an important argument to be made against something like a federal policy mandating masks. Still, it's a distinct position from hostility toward voluntary masking.

Something that smacks of obstinance.

Or, more specifically, the Trumpian notion of conservatism, which is simply doing things that annoy liberals.

There is a lot of talk about what the future of the GOP looks like, and many see the party's demise in America's shifting culture and demographic makeup, but the greatest risk to conservatism is the degree to which conservatives are letting liberals define what it is.

That's what we do when we turn conservatism from a movement of ideas, promoted because they're right and they work, to a movement that's merely in opposition to another movement.

If Trump and Republicans lose big on Election Day — a likely outcome, given all the data we have available to us today — it won't be because of the cultural dominance of liberalism in newsrooms and entertainment and academia (though the lack of balance there doesn't help).


It will be because when they were given the opportunity to turn conservative ideas into policy, they mostly chose to troll the liberals.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What to read next