MINOT, N.D. — Partisan activists must tread carefully during times of strife.

When some emergency is afoot, there is, for a while, limited public appetite for the usual bomb-throwing and mud-slinging.

The public expects leaders to focus on solutions.

It never lasts. Inevitably the partisans find a pretext to return to combat, and we all retreat from what we were trying to do together.

Here in North Dakota, the Democrats have found their pretext for the COVID-19 crisis.

They're pitting renters against landlords.

A group of left-wing interests recently called on Republican Gov. Doug Burgum to institute a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. When Burgum declined to do that — the state Supreme Court has already announced a pause in eviction proceedings — the Democrats pounced.

"The governor just said he expects working families to absorb the entire cost of the economic fall-out. Rent is due in two days and people aren't getting paid," North Dakota Democratic-NPL chairwoman Kylie Oversen said in a released statement. "It's not their fault, and they can be kicked out of their homes with only three days notice. At best, late fees will pile up that could set them back for years. The governor, who is a landlord himself, just told North Dakotans he has no understanding of the challenges they're facing."

If you were in doubt about whether this line of attack was about renters, or if it was a calculated political hit perpetrated by the Democrats and their ideological allies, note that shot at Burgum for being a "landlord himself."

I don't doubt that the Democrats are at least somewhat concerned about the plight of renters in this uncertain moment. Still, I suspect they're much more interested in finding a wedge they can exploit to divide North Dakotans and win elections.

They're free to make these attacks because they're under no obligation to lead. They can pick a sympathetic constituency to use as a vehicle for their rhetorical assaults, but Governor Burgum is tasked with something much more important.

He has to lead the whole state, both the renters and the landlords.

While Democrats are free to cherrypick anecdotes which suit their partisan agenda, Burgum considers not just renters but rental companies and all the people those companies employ.

This is the latest example of a mistake the Democrats make over and over again. They think the NDGOP wins because they're better at politics, so they strive to play the political game better.

In many ways, the Democrats are the superior politicians. Their party is better organized. Their messaging is tighter.

They lose, over and over, because the NDGOP's candidates are, in the aggregate, better at governing.

Note the use of the word "better." It's a relative thing.

Our Republican leadership is far from perfect, but compared to Democrats, the NDGOP leads in a way that's much more palatable to North Dakota voters.

Look at what's going on now.

While Republicans lead, Democrats try to exploit and conquer.

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