FARGO - What are we to make of "The Hug," or more apt, the non-hug?
By now, anyone who pays attention to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., knows about the awkward moment he shared with Donald Trump when the president was in Fargo. Trump came to town to campaign for Cramer, who is lusting after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's job. Photojournalist Dave Sampson's image of "The Hug" quickly became fodder for late-night TV shows and online giggles. It's one of those perfect news photos that indeed is worth a thousand words. It showcases the talent of a gifted photographer.
The picture reeks of discomfort. It's hard to tell whether Trump or Cramer is more embarrassed, more tentative, more self-conscious. Kinda creepy. By any clear-eyed assessment, it is not the warm embrace of two amigos. It borders on humiliating, certainly for Cramer, but who knows for Trump, who seems beyond humiliation in any circumstance.
What's going on with these two? What's with the tension that screams off the photo? They seemed to be racking each other with the collywobbles. But in truth, it's well-worn Trump strategy: He needs Cramer as a political rubber stamp. Trump was in Fargo to plug for the boot-licker/butt-kisser that Cramer has pledged to be. "With him (Trump) 100 percent of the time," Cramer said.
The prez was not in Fargo because he and Cramer are pals. In fact, there are indications Trump likes Heidi more than Kevin. Kevin has carped about it. A lot.
Weeks ago, Cramer whined like a jilted lover that the president was getting too cozy with Heitkamp. Trump had said nice things about her. He'd invited her to policy meetings and photo sessions. Cramer, not so much. She was at Trump's side for a couple of bill-signing ceremonies. In one photo op, hapless Cramer could be seen peering out from an obscure spot at the margin the tableau. Talk about demeaning. Cramer mewled to White House staff, and within days Trump had scheduled a trip to Fargo. Trump arrived, took a few softball shots at Heitkamp, goosed up his worshippers with red-meat Trumpsterisms, and said what he was expected to say about Cramer, even if it was platitudinous boilerplate that was notable for its lack of enthusiasm.
I'm guessing Donald likes Heidi because of her independence and feistiness. Both are big personalities. Both speak passionately about their beliefs. She can look him in the eye and unflinchingly challenge him. If not her politics, he likes her confidence and candor.
By his own conceit, Cramer is a malleable sycophant who will do Trump's bidding without question - "With him 100 percent of the time." Heitkamp is anything but malleable. She's said repeatedly that she will be with Trump when she agrees with him and against him when she disagrees. That's classic North Dakota-centric political philosophy. On the other hand, Cramer's posture is 100 percent Trump-centric. Almost cultish. Therefore, Trump need not respect Cramer. The congressman is in the president's thrall, apparently no matter what.
Thus, the creepiness of "The Hug."