MINOT, N.D. — The North Dakota Republican Party dominates state politics.
In nearly a decade and a half, no Democrat has won a statewide election here, except Heidi Heitkamp and her flukey 2012 victory in the 2012 U.S. Senate race.
The Democratic-NPL hasn't held a majority in either chamber of the state Legislature since the first term of the Clinton administration.
Political observers, including this one, have long assumed that the NDGOP's reign in the super-super majority will be ended when the Democrats figure some things out. Like how to talk to rural voters without condescension or pick a platform of campaign ideas palatable to North Dakota voters.
But what if the Republicans are done in not by ascendant Democrats but a group of Trumpy, conspiracy-addled kooks from their own ranks?
Over the weekend, the Minot-area District 40 Republicans held their reorganization meeting and elected a new businessman, and chose local businessman Jay Lundeen as their new chair.
"I've never seen him at any of our local party events. Not our fundraisers or our meetings," Rep. Randy Schobinger of District 40 told me.
The local party's first motion after choosing Lundeen? Moving to censure House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R-Carrington) over the expulsion, earlier this year, of disgraced former lawmaker Luke Simons for sexual harassment.
You read that right.
The first order of business for District 40, under their new leadership, was to admonish the top Republican in the state House for punishing a lawmaker who harassed not just legislative staff but other lawmakers (the motion was ultimately tabled, but is still pending)
Schobinger says the support for Simons means he'll be avoiding his own district party chairman. "I’m choosing not to communicate with him until he is replaced or resigns. I will not associate with folks who support habitual sexual harassers," he told me.
What happened in District 40 is alarming but not surprising. Simons was a member of the secretive Bastiat Caucus in the Legislature, a coalition of Donald Trump-loving Republicans who, according to a recent profile by reporter Alexandra Kautzman, see themselves as the defenders of the authentic Republicanism.
“It’s very ironic that sometimes even Republicans will say that we’re trying to damage the Republican party or that we're not real Republicans when we are actually the ones most strongly advocating for the party platform,” Bastiat founder Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) told Kautzman.
The Bastiats aren't good at much, but behind the leadership of people like Becker and Jared Hendrix, a low-profile activist from the Minot area who is chair in District 38, they've developed a genius for manipulating the NDGOP's inner processes.
Becker characterizes the Bastiats as defending the NDGOP's platform. That would be the same platform Republicans across the state disowned when some virulent anti-LGBTQ language in it made headlines.
It was Bastiat-aligned party activists sticking up for that ugly language at the time, just as it was Bastiat-aligned people who protested Simons's expulsion and urged peeping-tom candidate Will Gardner to stay in the 2018 Secretary of State race.
Current Bastiat Caucus chairman, Sen. Oley Larsen (R-Minot), once promoted a conspiracy theory on Facebook which claimed, falsely, that far-left U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was trained by al Qaeda.
There is a saying in politics positing that we are governed by the people who show up. Nowhere is that more true than in intraparty politics. The people who show up to meetings to handle local party business in places like District 40 are the people who choose party leaders. Who, in turn, have influence things like state convention attendees, the party's candidates, and, of course, party platform planks.
Hendrix and Becker are very good at getting their people to show up, and winning doesn't usually require big numbers. Depending on which district you're talking about, getting even as few as a half-dozen people to a meeting can sway the outcome.
In many places across the state, the Bastiats have been better at getting their people to meetings than the more traditional Republicans, and good for them, as far as that goes. That's how the game is played.
If more traditional Republicans want to stop it, they need to start showing up.
They really, really, need to.
The ideology of the Bastiats fuses angry, Trumpian conspiracy mongering with a strain of populist Bible-thumping to produce something that observers often describe as "libertarian" or "ultra-conservative" for lack of better terms.
Which is an insult to actual libertarians and conservatives who really don't deserve to be compared to a bunch of authoritarian-minded cranks who frequently find themselves at odds with concepts like religious liberty and free speech.
The durability of the NDGOP's success in state politics is rooted in competent, moderate leadership. Republicans win in North Dakota because, in the aggregate, Republicans govern well.
The Bastiats aren't interested in governing. Like so many at the national level, the Bastiats are fascinated by performative politics, which light up comment sections on social media and incorporate many of the trendy talking points one can find on Fox News or Newsmax, but rarely result in good policy.
If Hendrix (rumored to be running for state party chairman, a position currently held by former Congressman Rick Berg), Becker and the Bastiats are successful in shifting the NDGOP away from its history of competent, rigorous leadership toward the politics of Facebook, Fox News, and Trump, the party will lose ground to the Democrats.
North Dakota's traditional Republicans — who are very much the majority in this state — must take heed.
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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.