“I’m not a politician,” newly-minted political candidate Doug Burgum told a Fargo crowd yesterday during his announcement of his gubernatorial campaign.
He then promptly began to behave like a politician.
The first clue that perhaps really is a politician was his comments on the strategy he will deploy to get on the November ballot. He told us that he wants to go to the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement convention in Fargo this April and seek the support of delegates there.
He also told us that what the delegates decide doesn’t matter because he’s also going to take his campaign to the June ballot no matter what they say.
While the candidness in those comments is perhaps not the hallmark of the average politician, the calculation is. Politicians like to hedge their bets.
Politicians also like to avoid taking positions on sticky issues, which is what Burgum was doing yesterday. Take a listen to this audio from a Burgum presser with the media yesterday. He gets asked about his positions on issues like gay marriage and abortion, and how he’ll sell those positions to conservative Republican voters, and he gives a thoroughly political answer saying he wants to “pivot away from the intractable” to things he “can maybe do something about.”
Perhaps Burgum thinks being silent on tough issues – which go far beyond just abortion and gay marriage, I’d add – is part of his whole “I’m not a politician” schtick. Except dissembling when asked tough questions is central to being a politician.
A maverick, non-politician of the sort that Burgum wants to be would give forthright answers to those sort of questions.
Also interesting were the first few minutes of Burgum’s presser where he instructs the reporters not to use “labels” for him since he’s a “complex person” who cannot be easily summed up thusly. I wasn’t in the room for that – this audio was passed to me by my good friend Scott Hennen who was – but I imagine there was maybe some subtle eye-rolling going on during that.
While superficially saying you want to avoid labels in politics sounds noble, the reality is that it’s obfuscation. How on earth can we describe Burgum’s positions on the issues – the very essence of any political campaign – if we can’t describe them with labels?
If Burgum wants us to understand that he has very nuanced positions on the issues, then fine. Deliver us the nuance. Don’t hide behind phony-baloney posturing.
I’m glad Burgum’s in the race. I think this nomination competition is going to be entertaining and fascinating to watch. But if Burgum isn’t careful his efforts to paint himself as an authentic catalyst for changing North Dakota are going to come off as decidedly inauthentic.