Port: Republicans apparently standing behind candidates who were members of bigoted messaging group
I'd like to think that there was a time, not so long ago, when political candidates and activists who talked casually about Jewish media conspiracies, and flippantly used slurs, would have resigned in shame when caught, or would at the very least be ostracized by their party. But that's not happening anymore"."
MINOT, N.D. — Back in August I reported on the profligate use of racial and homophobic slurs, as well as the presence of white supremacist and antisemitic tropes, in a messaging group organized by the North Dakota Young Republicans.
The NDYR represents the very extreme, very Trump wing of the North Dakota Republican Party. Many of its members are also ardent supporters of former Republican Rick Becker, who left the party after losing the NDGOP's endorsement for his U.S. Senate campaign (he's now pursuing that campaign as an independent).
The list of prominent candidates, elected officials, and activists involved in that messaging group, is a long one (including Becker's campaign manager and a close adviser) , and when the news broke, many Republicans at least seemed to take the revelations seriously.
These are people who help write our laws. They're candidates for elected office. They're politicos who shape our state's politics. How they were behaving in that messaging group was a big deal.
"The NDGOP flatly condemns the offensive statements made by a group of Young Republicans this week on their chat platform," the North Dakota Republican Party said in a statement responding to my report . "We have always encouraged diversity of thought and respectful discourse, along with respect for our political opponents. What we saw this week does not stand in any way, with the views of the NDGOP or the Republican Party."
NDGOP Chairman Perrie Schafer also spoke to me about the issue on my podcast, even going so far as to suggest that the party may cut ties with some of these candidates.
"This is an organization," he said of his party. "We get to choose who we're associated with."
"We have a right to choose who is in our group," Schafer continued. "Personal responsibility and accountability are apparently not what these people want," he added.
If the NDGOP has taken any steps to hold the candidates who were caught up in this scandal accountable for their words and actions, it's not clear what they are.
"We are working internally with the candidates in question," party executive director Corby Kemmer told me in mid-September when inquired about any updates on the situation. Asked if there would be any forthcoming announcements Kemmer said, "Not that I'm aware of."
Meanwhile, two of the most egregious participants in the group's bigotry continue with their campaigns.
Ethan Harsell, a candidate for the state House in Grand Forks with a long history of bigoted posts both in the Young Republicans messaging group and on social media, has received donations from Rep. Claire Cory of Grand Forks (who was also a member of the NDYR group) and Rep. Dan Ruby of Minot. Harsell also received a $1,000 donation from the North Dakota Republican House Caucus on October 4.
He also received a $1,500 donation from the caucus on August 24, just days after my original story about the NDYRs ran .
Carter Eisinger is running for the House in Fargo-area District 11. When I first contacted members of the NDYR group about the bigoted messages being posted, he made jokes dismissive of the situation, and wrote that he was happy to be in screenshots along with the slurs.
Eisinger remains on the ballot, and received a $1,500 contribution from the House Republican Caucus, though that one came in early August, before my reporting.
This situation seems like a microcosm for a larger quandary Republicans find themselves in.
I know, for a fact, that many in the NDGOP are alarmed about the rise of extremism in their ranks. They are disgusted by the antics of people like these Young Republicans just as, on the national stage, many Republicans are horrified by incidents like the Jan. 6 riot, and the behavioral excesses of Donald Trump and his disciples.
And yet, increasingly, they find themselves powerless to do anything about it.
I'd like to think that there was a time, not so long ago, when political candidates and activists who talked casually about Jewish media conspiracies, and flippantly used homophobic slurs such as "f-----," would have resigned in shame when caught, or would at the very least be ostracized by their party.
But that's not happening anymore. Not at the national level and not, as this sorry incident tells us, here at home in North Dakota either.
"Personal responsibility and accountability are apparently not what these people want," Schafer told me during that August podcast interview . I agree with him. I don't think people like Harsell or Eisinger or those who would excuse and rationalize what they did really want things like "responsibility" or "accountability."
At least, not for themselves.
I just wish someone had brought those things to them anyway.
On a related note, Harsell and Eisinger are now being supported , through independent spending, by a national, very Trumpy political action committee called Make Liberty Win, which is currently dropping lovely (that's sarcasm) mailers like these on voters.
Who knew the North Dakota Legislature makes national immigration policy?