Port: We're about to find out how much juice Rick Becker and his political movement really has
Becker's Bastiat Caucus is asking voters to oppose Republican candidates and vote for a Democrat.
MINOT, N.D. — The Bastiat Caucus, founded by Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), started in 2013 as a faction of lawmakers inspired by the free market ideas of French Liberal School economist and writer Frederic Bastiat.
What it has become is something less aspirational and, depending on your point of view, inspirational. At times it can seem like little more than a cult of personality formed around Becker and his incessant Facebook activism.
The movement and its adherents haven't accomplished much in terms of actual public policy, though its members routinely make the headlines.
There was that time Sen. Oley Larsen (R-Minot) suggested that al Qaeda trained Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Or the time Rep. Jeff Hoverson (R-Minot) got the vapors because the Legislature allowed a Hindu to lead the daily invocation.
Remember when Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo) claimed someone hacked his Facebook account to post racist and sexist memes? Twice ?
Or when it was revealed that erstwhile treasurer candidate Rep. Dan Johnston (R-Kathryn) was a Qanon conspiracy enthusiast with a few racist Facebook jokes in his own archive ?
Becker himself once dressed up as God for a Facebook video opposing the continued resettlement of refugees in Burleigh County, and in 2018 the Bastiats were encouraging Republican Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner to stay on the statewide ballot despite an arrest for window peeping on the NDSU campus .
Now the movement, clearly frustrated, is trying to flex its political muscle. They're irate that Gov. Doug Burgum spent big money to defeat Johnston and other Bastiat-aligned Republican candidates in the primary earlier this year.
Becker and his disciples are asking North Dakotans to vote for someone who isn't even on the ballot.
On Facebook and elsewhere, they're touting a write-in campaign for frequently unsuccessful statewide candidate Michael Coachman.
Coachman's challenge to Burgum in the primary was unsuccessful — he got just 10% of the vote — but now Becker is asking people to write the candidate in as a challenge to Burgum's authority.
"Becker argues that one person to watch in all this is Michael Coachman, the perennial candidate running as a conservative write-in for governor," Sam Easter reported recently . "He’s seen by some observers as a barometer for the strength of Burgum’s mandate, in the likely case of the governor’s re-election. Enough votes for Coachman, the logic goes, and the strength of Burgum’s position against the Legislature starts to waver."
Interestingly, this same tactic, using the same person, was attempted by Democrats just last cycle . In 2018 the Democratic-NPL sent multiple mailers touting Coachman's candidacy for Secretary of State (he was actually on the ballot that time) in an attempt to split the Republican vote between Coachman and incumbent Al Jaeger, something which could perhaps have given a win to Democratic-NPL candidate Rep. Joshua Boschee (D-Fargo).
It didn't work for the Democrats — Jaeger won, handily — but do the Bastiats have more juice?
I doubt it, even given the decrepit state of the Democratic-NPL.
Now the Minuteman Blog — a sort of party organ for the Bastiats written by an anonymous author who once accused the artist behind a controversial mural of Greta Thunberg of Nazi sympathies because he wore a Porsche shirt — is encouraging its readers to cast a vote for the Democratic-NPL candidate Mark Haugen in the Treasurer race.
Johnston was the Bastiat candidate in that race, but he lost decisively to Fargo Rep. Thomas Beadle. After months of deriding Beadle as too-liberal, the Bastiats are now encouraging one another to vote for an actual liberal, albeit one who is socially conservative on the issue of abortion.
Which is a thin veneer for some sour grapes over Johnston's loss. The Treasurer's office has not a thing to do with abortion policy.
Will the Bastiats be successful?
They're certainly capable of a lot of sound and fury, and I suspect they'll claim to have inflated vote totals for both Coachman and Haugen, but that will be just the latest in a long line of symbolic-but-not-actual victories for the Bastiats.
Maybe that will make them less angry, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .