FARGO—President Donald Trump resuscitated his famous—and unsuccessful—line from the 2016 campaign during a high-dollar fundraiser last week in Fargo.
"What the hell do you have to lose?" Trump asked Native American voters in North Dakota at a brief stump stop for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Cramer.
It's unclear whether there were actually any Native Americans in attendance at the function, which, judging by TV shots and video streams, looked to be as diverse as a bag of marshmallows. Maybe Native Americans aren't thrilled with a president who derisively calls a political opponent "Pocahontas," bragged about OK'ing the Dakota Access Pipeline and knows nothing of tribal politics.
It was an odd line inserted into a generally subdued and vanilla talk with supporters, a deep cut tossed into a string of greatest hits.
Tax cuts! Build the wall! Obama sucks! Hey, Native Americans, vote for Kevin Cramer!
Trump asked the same question of African-Americans in 2016 (and nearly 9 of 10 didn't vote for him). What did they have to lose by voting for him instead of Democrat Hillary Clinton?
And like 2016, Trump framed his question in fatalistic, bleak terms. He essentially told Native Americans that their lives are so terrible—drugs, crime, poverty, poor education—that they might as well vote for Cramer because things couldn't get any worse.
Except that, they can. And likely will if Cramer is elected.
What the hell do they have to lose? An advocate in the Senate for starters. A voice. An ally. Somebody who has made Native American issues one of the centerpieces of her stay in the Senate.
While Cramer has taken a dismissive, at best, and sometimes confrontational stance with North Dakota's tribes—he issued a sort-of apology after a condescending, accusatory discussion with tribal members about domestic violence on the Spirit Lake Reservation several years ago—Heitkamp has kept Native American issues at the forefront.
She's a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, an assignment she's held since shortly after being elected in 2012. The first bill Heitkamp introduced, a bipartisan one, called for a commission on Native children.
She worked with Republican Sen. John McCain to expand AMBER Alerts to reservations. She recently introduced Savanna's Act to protect missing and murdered Native women in the wake of the horrific murder of Fargo's Savanna Greywind. Heitkamp supported greater protections for Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act. She's fought for better federal law enforcement presence in Indian Country.
She's also pushed for better educational opportunities on reservations, and pushed back against devastating human and drug trafficking.
There is much more, but space is limited.
And Cramer? He's so sympathetic to Native Americans that he told a gathering at Spirit Lake he didn't feel safe on the reservation because he's white, in the midst of lecturing a domestic abuse survivor on the constitutionality of tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act.
What the hell do Native Americans have to lose by voting for Cramer? A hell of a lot.