Doug Burgum won the NDGOP’s gubernatorial primary last week by appealing to a faction of conservative Republicans upset with free-spending state lawmakers and the perception that many of the state’s elected officials – the oft-referenced “good old boys club” – are out of touch.
He turned that victory into a landslide by also appealing to liberal voters who also wanted to stick their collective thumbs in the eye of the Republican establishment in the state. While Burgum and his supporters have tried to downplay the impact of Democrats crossing over to the Republican ticket in North Dakota’s open primary, it’s clear from the numbers that it happened in a big, big way. In some areas so many Democrats crossed over to the Republican side that some Democratic lawmakers were at risk of not getting enough votes to make the general election ballot.
But you don’t have to believe the mathematics of the primary day turnout to see that Burgum has a lot of support from the left. Just check out the Facebook posts of your liberal friends. They’re probably Burgum supporters, buying into the idea that his Trump-loving campaign as a fiscal conservative was just for the Republican rubes.
This sets up something of a quandary for Burgum. While it’s all well and good to unite the right and the left in opposition to a nebulously-defined “good old boys club” during an election campaign, keeping that coalition united during the process of policy making is something else entirely.
All partisanship aside, the simple fact remains that liberals and conservatives have contradictory philosophies and priorities when it comes to public policy. While there are always area where you may get to the two sides to agree, eventually Doug Burgum is going to have to start articulating some real, and those positions are going to be polarizing to one degree or another.
At which point his coalition of support is going to shrink. It has to. The size of his coalition now, built on vague anti-establishment rhetoric, simply cannot hold together.
Last week I suggested that Burgum look to mend fences with his fellow Republicans by, among other things, getting behind the legislative campaigns of Republicans facing tough races this cycle. In an interview with me on Friday State Senator Nicole Poolman, running mate to Burgum’s primary opponent Wayne Stenehjem, made similar comments. The idea is for Burgum to grow support from lawmakers which, in turn, would translate into momentum for his (hopefully) conservative policy agenda.
The angry reactions to these suggestions from Burgum’s sore winner brigade on social media was astonishing to behold. Burgum’s conservative supporters want to punish Republican lawmakers they see as too profligate. Burgum’s liberal supporters would rather just see Republicans fail in general.
None of these people seem concerned with how Burgum is actually going to govern.
I hope Burgum governs as a conservative. I think it would be a mistake for him to move to the left of his campaign messaging. But a lot of his liberal supporters seem to think that’s exactly what he will do.