Why Couldn't Doug Burgum Have Just Run As Himself?


Over the weekend I was sitting around with some politically-engaged friends and I made this argument:

The real Doug Burgum would have made for a much more formidable gubernatorial candidate than the contrived one we see on the campaign trail now.

I don’t mean to suggest that the current Burgum iteration is a push over. I have no doubt that he’s closing the gap with Republican primary opponent Wayne Stenehjem, and that the mountains of money he’s throwing at his campaign could well put him over the top on primary day in June.

Or maybe not. We’ll see in June. I’m just saying that he might have had an easier time of it had he been himself.

Currently Burgum is campaigning as an outsider out to change the status quo despite being an intimate of the last three Republican governors, directing prodigious amounts of money into their campaigns even when they were running for terms in office that went beyond the term limits Burgum now says he supports.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I wonder how many conservative North Dakota voters will be surprised when, should he win, Burgum the governor turns out to be a very different thing from Burgum the candidate.[/mks_pullquote]

Burgum is campaigning with lobbyist Bob Harms as a top adviser and surrogate even as he derides the influence of lobbyists and special interests.

In years past Burgum has been an outspoken proponent of social liberalism but now can’t seem to remember his past positions as he dances around questions about abortion and gay marriage on the campaign trail.

For his 2016 campaign Burgum has branded himself a sort of free market capitalist, yet in Fargo has built a real estate development business around public subsidies and regulations promoting the sort of development he’s engaged in building. Asked Fargo Commissioner Ton Gehrig in November, before Burgum announced his campaign, why subsidies and regulations are needed to promote denser development Burgum expressed a lack of trust in the free market ideals he now embraces.

“The free market won’t deliver that,” he said.

All that maneuvering from a guy who launched his campaign by telling us he’s not a politician.

Burgum is neither as fiscally conservative nor as socially conservative as he would like Republican primary voters to believe he is. His mistake, I think, was thinking he had to become something he’s not to win.

In fact, I think this blatantly convenient shift in his politics has done more to distract from the real merits of his candidacy.

There is no denying that Burgum is a gifted businessman and entrepreneur. There is no question that he has ideas for North Dakota which are worth considering. I wish he’d spend more time talking about those things, and less time wearing the costume of a cookie-cutter conservative politician spewing whatever talking points have been drifting to the top of his seemingly omnipresent polling.

I wonder how many North Dakotans who are turned off by campaign-mode Burgum might have supported a more authentic version of him.

I wonder how many conservative North Dakota voters will be surprised when, should he win, Burgum the governor turns out to be a very different thing from Burgum the candidate.

If I have been a harsh critic of Burgum in recent weeks, and I think it’s fair to say that I have been, it is only because I am far less interested in version of himself he’s put on the campaign trail than I am in the real deal.