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Port: The NDGOP has eschewed Trump's excesses, and it's served them well

The NDGOP, like Republican organizations across the nation, has to take some responsibility for Trump. There's no question. He represents a stain the party will have to wear for a while. But North Dakota's Republicans haven't gone in for the worst of Trumpism, and that's why they had a better election night than many Republicans did.

Hoeven wins
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaks at an election party in Bismarck flanked by family members on Nov. 8, 2022.
Kyle Martin / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — Across the nation, Republicans had a very bad night last Tuesday. They were expected to sweep back into majorities in Senate and the House. They ended up falling short in the Senate, and while there are still some races yet to finish, there is a not-zero chance that they fall short of taking a narrow majority in the House too .

But in North Dakota, the NDGOP had a very good night.

Sen. John Hoeven cruised to re-election in a three-way race despite a vigorous challenge from the Trump-aligned right.

Congressman Kelly Armstrong, too, turned his re-election into a layup despite a challenge from a celebrity candidate backed by the Democrats.

The NDGOP candidates won every single statewide office in landslides and managed to whittle down the Democratic superminority in the state Legislature to a caucus so small it now holds just a bit more than 10% of the seats there.

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Only Republicans in Florida had a better night. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a contender for the presidency in 2024, and a top rival in that race to disgraced former President Donald Trump, is ascendant.

But let's get local.

Why did North Dakota Republicans outperform their national counterparts?

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Trump, who is expected to announce his 2024 campaign sometime today, is at the center of the explanation.

Nationally, where Republicans failed, in a political environment that should have favored them, is where Trump and his various disciples were most visible. Places like Arizona. Pennsylvania. Georgia.

Trump's toxicity for Republicans is not conjecture. It can be measured mathematically.

According to an analysis by Philip Wallach , a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in 114 close congressional races across the country, "candidates bearing Trump endorsements underperformed their baseline by a whopping 5 points, while Republicans who were without Trump’s blessing overperformed their baseline by 2.2 points — a remarkable difference of more than 7 points."

North Dakota's congressional races weren't included in that analysis, because those competitions weren't close. Hoeven beat the second-place candidate in his three-way race by 22 percentage points. Armstrong beat his opponent by almost 25. Still, Trump was a factor, insofar as Hoeven and Armstrong weren't really MAGA-world candidates.

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Sure, they're nominally Trump supporters. Hoeven even touted Trump's endorsement in his campaign literature, though that was likely more of a raised middle finger to independent candidate Rick Becker, who very much was a MAGA candidate.

But on the big stuff, Hoeven and Armstrong haven't followed Trump down his various rabbit holes. They voted to certify the 2020 election, for one thing. They haven't adopted Trump's crude and belligerent approach to politics, either. Hoeven is the epitome of the quiet, composed dealmaker. Armstrong, meanwhile, didn't run a single negative ad against his opponent, former Miss America Cara Mund, despite Mund hurling abuse at the incumbent.

Now even the most loyal follower of Trump among North Dakota's elected Republicans, Sen. Kevin Cramer, who was among the first members of Congress to endorse Trump's campaign in 2016, seems to be putting some distance between himself and MAGA world.

Cramer is now saying Trump should face competition for the 2024 endorsement . And while Trump's supporters are trying to deflect blame for desultory midterm outcomes away from the former president and his antics, Cramer isn't having it .

Remember, too, that Cramer also voted to certify the 2020 election, over Trump's protests.

At this point, some of you may be wanting to accuse me of giving North Dakota Republicans too much credit for eschewing Trumpism. It's a fair criticism. Most Republicans in North Dakota, including pretty much every single Republican holding elected office, have at least nominally supported Trump.

My argument, such as it is, lies in the degree of that support. The NDGOP has largely avoided the more obnoxious excesses of Trumpism, and that's been to their benefit.

Even the internal power struggles within the NDGOP, which have become visible over the past year or so, have seen "establishment" or "normie" Republicans consistently holding the lines against MAGA-world nutters like Becker and the members of the Bastiat Caucus movement he founded.

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Trump-aligned Bastiats tried to take over leadership of the state party, and they failed. They tried to grow their numbers in district-level party leadership, and they failed. They tried to take over the NDGOP's state convention, and give Becker the endorsement in the U.S. Senate race over Hoeven, and they failed.

The Bastiats did have some success in legislative primary elections, but with a new legislative session set to commence in January, it's not clear that they have any more clout now than they have in the past.

The NDGOP's legislative caucus just elected their leaders last night, and suffice it to say that it was a good night for the "establishment" normies .

Some of the success the NDGOP enjoyed last week has to do with inertia. Their rivals at the Democratic-NPL haven't been putting up much of a fight.

Yet, in politics, that sort of thing can change quickly. Had North Dakota's Republicans embraced Trumpism, with all its vulgarities and conspiracy-driven indulgences, as fulsomely as Republicans in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania have, we might see the party start to lose ground.

The NDGOP, like Republican organizations across the nation, has to take some responsibility for Trump. There's no question. He represents a stain the party will have to wear for a while. But North Dakota's Republicans haven't gone in for the worst of Trumpism, and that's why they had a better election night than many Republicans did.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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