FARGO — When all the sane Republicans leave, what will be left?

And if the sane Republicans leaving don't speak up, and talk only in careful code, what responsibility do they have for what's left?

These are the thoughts spurred by the news last week that state Sen. Nicole Poolman, sane Republican from Bismarck, will not run for re-election in 2022. She cited family and professional reasons, but also said these "toxic times" in politics weighed in her decision.

Since Republicans hold a super-majority in North Dakota politics and you can fit all the Democrats in the Legislature in a thimble, we presume Poolman was referring to her GOP counterparts.

The same poisonous right-wing, loony-tune politics that have become popular around the United States in the Donald Trump era are overtaking the Republican Party in North Dakota. The non-existent problem of Critical Race Theory, the belief Trump won the 2020 election, the wild-eyed frothing over masks and COVID vaccines, the intimidation of school boards, support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists .... it's all here in North Dakota.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

And it's only going to get worse.

Poolman, best as we can tell, doesn't belong to the wacky wing of the Republican Party — although the line between normal and wacky has moved decidedly to the right and is becoming blurred. She's a classic Republican, checking all the conservative boxes on taxes, regulation, business and other traditional GOP issues. A high school teacher, she supported public education.

Moderate Republicans and the handful of Democrats in Bismarck seemed to like Poolman and worked with her on policy. There was a genuine outreach of support when she announced her retirement, something that will not happen when, say, Fargo Rep. Jim Kasper leaves.

But there is also a measure of hypocrisy with Poolman citing toxicity as a reason for bailing out, just as there is when every Republican laments the current political atmosphere of disrespect and lack of decorum.

Which person is most responsible for the noxious state of political discourse and what party does he lead around by the nose?

Hint: It rhymes with Tonald Drump.

Republicans disgusted by the nastiness of modern politics have a clever, almost pathological, way of disassociating themselves from Trump to keep themselves clean. His policies are fine, they'll say, but I don't like the person. As if you can so easily separate the two. Mussolini kept the trains running on time, right?

Whether Poolman voted for Trump is unknown. She certainly never spoke out against him or the legion of nutjobs in North Dakota who are taking his cues. She and her husband Jim, the state's former insurance commissioner, are tight with U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, who's also never spoken a cross word or taken a tough vote against the former president.

So if the reasonable Republicans aren't going to speak out against the insanity and insurrectionists, who will? Losing a sane Republican like Poolman isn't good, but neither is the silence of her and other like-minded Republicans who are getting out.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com