Port: For North Dakota's legislative leaders, a lesson from Washington

"Don't pander to Trumpists," columnist Rob Port advises North Dakota lawmakers in Bismarck.

North Dakota Sen. David Hogue speaks at GOP headquarters in Bismarck before his election as Senate majority leader.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — If we were to do a ranking of the most Trump-toadying Republicans, Rep. Kevin McCarthy would have to be near the top. Yet, as I write this, McCarthy is fighting the most Trump-aligned of his caucus members to become speaker of the house.

There's a lesson there for North Dakota's legislative leaders.

In 2016, as disgraced former president Donald Trump won one Republican primary after another, McCarthy was caught on tape telling colleagues that he thought maybe the man was on Vladimir Putin's payroll . But when Trump won the presidency, McCarthy didn't allow these qualms to be an obstacle to a close relationship with the man. McCarthy picked out Trump's favorite Starburst flavors for him . Trump called him "my Kevin."

The overtures of ownership in that endearment shouldn't be lost on us.

The violence of the Jan. 6 riot cracked but did not break McCarthy's resolve to be a bootlicker. Privately, he told colleagues that he planned to ask Trump to resign. When these comments were made public, McCarthy denied making them and was immediately embarrassed when recordings emerged .


For a moment, amid a vote in the House to impeach Trump, it seemed McCarthy might have the courage of his convictions. Though he voted against impeachment, he delivered a speech in which he rightly said Trump "bears responsibility" for the attack on Congress. But then he immediately made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to pay obeisance and beg for Trump's forgiveness .

Secretary of State Michael Howe is asking the group to make an amended filing within 10 days.
"I'm an atheist, and even I'm shocked about the level of anti-religion antipathy this legislation has engendered."
"Yesterday term limits activists filed an ethics complaint over what they say is an unreported contribution to a lawmaker. Today it seems they have a significant discrepancy in their own finances."

I recount this story of craven behavior as a cautionary tale for North Dakota's new legislative leaders.

Don't pander to Trumpists.

In our state Legislature, as in Congress, members of Trump's cult of personality — distinct from those only nominally supportive of him — are the minority. Yet they are a noisy minority.

I'm afraid the impulse from Rep. Mike Lefor, and Sen. David Hougue, the House and Senate majority leaders, respectively, will be to appease them.

These folks are not hard to identify.

Freshman Rep. Matt Heilman, from the Bismarck area, has been retweeting claims that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is the "anti-Christ."

Rep. Nico Rios tweet
A tweet posted by Rep. Nico Rios in support of Andrew Tate. Message has been redacted to remove profanity.
Screenshot via Twitter

In a since-deleted tweet, Rep. Nico Rios from Williston, spent the holidays supporting kickboxer-turned-Trumpy masculinity "influencer" Andrew Tate in a stupid Twitter dust-up with left-wing activist Greta Thunberg that culminated in Tate's arrest in Romania on charges of human trafficking .


Sen. Jeff Magrum, new to that chamber after serving in the state House, published a letter to the Emmons County Record in which he suggested that support for a new carbon pipeline was both an act of both communism and fascism. Two ideologies that, while both authoritarian, are not the same thing.

Most of the NDGOP's caucus in Bismarck, which makes up almost the entirety of the Legislature, are serious-minded people who are in office to serve their constituencies.

But there are some nuts in the fruitcake. Some people who use social media belligerence and tiresome stunts to try and bully their colleagues.

McCarthy's plight shows there's no use pandering to them.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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