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Commentary: Trump's next visit to North Dakota should be to Indian country

MINOT, N.D. — "What have you got to lose?"

That was President Donald Trump's entreaty to North Dakota's Native American voters during a recent visit to Fargo in support of Congressman Kevin Cramer's campaign to unseat incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

It's an echo of a similar argument Trump has made to black voters, and as you might imagine it had Heitkamp's liberal base sneering.

Though the candidate herself might like to posture herself in election years as a "work with anyone" moderate, the core of her political support comes from people who accept that dissent from liberal orthodoxy is bigotry as a part of their ideological catechism.

When Trump has the audacity to suggest non-white voters might have something to gain from eschewing their tradition of voting mostly for Democrats he is speaking heresy as far as our liberal friends are concerned.

Why not lean into it?

Trump will be visiting North Dakota again this election cycle.

Why not schedule the visit for one of our state's Native American communities?

Why not show up and ask the people who live there what the Democrats they've mostly been voting for over the years have done to change the trajectory of their lives?

I'm not a Native American, but I do follow the things our politicians say very closely. The messages Senator Heitkamp delivers on Native American issues today sound like they were copied-and-pasted from Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan speeches from decades ago.

Nothing really changes.

What can Democrats say they've delivered to ease problems like crime and poverty and a paucity of opportunity which plague Native American communities?

Trump should go to a reservation and talk about that.

It makes sense, politically.

Voters in Indian Country are feeling something less than enthusiastic about re-electing Heitkamp.

"We rallied so hard for her, but when her hand was forced she basically sold out to big oil."

That's a quote from a May Associated Press interview with Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, a Native American activist who organized voters for Heitkamp in 2012 and was a candidate on the statewide ballot for Democrats in 2016.

She told the AP she was going to stay on the sidelines in 2018 because of her dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

Grand Forks Herald columnist Mike Jacobs observed this dissatisfaction as well. "They may not be unhappy enough to vote for Cramer," he wrote of Native American voters in a May column, "but they could stay home on Election Day."

Republicans shouldn't want those voters to stay home.

Republicans should want those voters to see the value in voting Republican.

Maybe Trump, who has a track record of appealing to demographics which traditionally vote for Democrats, could effectively make the case. Besides the Republicans in North Dakota don't do enough outreach to Native Americans, all but conceding those votes to Democrats.

They can do better.

At the very least, it would set chins wagging, and we all know the President loves it when that happens.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.

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