Back in 2016 the North Dakota Democratic Party, as you might expect, were not fans of President Donald Trump.
In October 2016 our Democratic friends were pointing out that Republicans had refused to acknowledge that Trump was, according to them, unfit for office. “All of North Dakota’s elected statewide Republicans have refused to distance themselves from, or speak out on, Donald Trump’s ‘patent’ lack of fitness and temperament to serve as President of the United States,” th eparty said in a public statement.
Later that month when the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape made news, Democrats pounced. “How in the world do John Hoeven, Kevin Cramer, Doug Burgum, and North Dakota’s Republican candidates the rest of the way down the ticket continue to ignore this man’s vile comments as he seeks the most important job in the world?” Robert Haider, then the party’s executive director, said in a public statement. “If his perceived entitlement to women’s bodies doesn’t stop Republican officials from supporting him, will anything?”
Flash forward to 2018. President Trump has proved, if not popular, at least more popular than many expected. He’s about as popular in North Dakota now as he was back when he defeated Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in a landslide among North Dakota voters. Now Democrats, desperate to re-elect the only member of their party who has won on the statewide ballot in the past decade, are demanding that anyone distance themselves from Trump.
In fact, they’re busy bragging about how close their candidate gets to stand to him.
Here’s the party mocking Rep. Kevin Cramer, challenger to incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, because Heitkamp got to stand closer to Trump than Cramer did at a bill signing:
— ND Dem-NPL (@nddemnpl) May 24, 2018
Heitkamp’s campaign staff has been carpet bombing social media with messaging about President Trump supposedly liking the Democrat more than he likes Cramer. Case in point, here’s Heitkamp flack Sean Higgins, with all the subtlety and composure of a middle schooler:
— Sean Higgins (@smhigg) May 30, 2018
North Dakota’s Democrats have gone from saying Trump is “vile” and unfit for office to gushing about their candidate’s physical proximity to him at photo-ops.
According to an article in Politico today, Senator Heitkamp’s staff literally keeps a list of how many their boss meets with the President: “Her office keeps a running list of the dozen-plus meetings Heitkamp has had with Trump and his top advisers since the 2016 election.”
I’m not sure I understand this strategy. “Maybe it’s the only idea they have?” a former reporter wondered to me this morning.
The President has absolutely courted Senator Heitkamp at times during his first year in office, and why wouldn’t he? She’s a Democratic swing vote from a pro-Trump state. Trump has often needed votes in the Senate for his various initiatives. He’s played nice with Heitkamp as a way to get those votes.
That doesn’t mean he prefers Heitkamp to a Republican in that seat. Inevitably Trump will come to North Dakota and campaign for Cramer, at which point all of this political capital Democrats have invested in promoting this Trump-loves-Heitkamp-more-than-Cramer narrative is worth what exactly?
It’s a unique strategy, but it seems like a hail mary thrown by a campaign that’s so far been losing the race.