Stenehjem Joins Hoeven And Dalrymple In Fence Sitting On Donald Trump


U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks to the podium at a press event at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

American politics generally, and Republican politics specifically, are at something of a crossroads right now. There is a shift afoot, I think, driven by Donald Trump and I don’t think it behooves any politician to try and sit on the fence as it happens.

Besides, Trump isn’t exactly the sort of candidate who elicits ambivalence.

Some of North Dakota’s top Republicans are trying to sit on the fence, though. Senator John Hoeven and Governor Jack Dalrymple have each said that they’re backing their party’s nominee, but didn’t exactly endorse Trump specifically. Thus, they’re backing Trump by default.

By contrast, others like Congressman Kevin Cramer and gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum have enthusiastically endorsed Trump.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is Burgum’s opponent in the gubernatorial race, took the Hoeven/Dalrymple route saying he will stand behind his national party’s candidate, though he couldn’t bring himself to actually use that candidate’s name:

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday he will support the Republican Party’s nominee for president but stopped short of endorsing — or even mentioning — presumptive nominee Donald Trump. …

“As I have always done, both at the state and federal level, I will support the candidate nominated by our party’s convention. North Dakota cannot afford Hillary Clinton,” Stenehjem said in an emailed statement. “She is a threat to our oil, coal, and agriculture industries. And worse, she will tilt the balance of the Supreme Court to reflect her liberal agenda for a generation to come.”

Stenehjem, the party’s endorsed candidate and a state legislator for 24 years before first being elected to his current job in 2000, also said, “No one has fought harder to successfully protect North Dakotans from federal overreach than I have.”

“But we can’t hold them off in court forever. Whether it’s the EPA’s overbearing Waters of the U.S. rule, the job-killing Clean Power Plan, or Obamacare, it is critical we send a Republican to the White House,” he said.

I can understand Stenehjem’s calculus here. Would Trump be a better candidate for North Dakota than Hillary Clinton? Perhaps. I think what good he may represent for North Dakota, specifically, will be offset by the train wreck he represents for the country as a whole (I don’t see Clinton as much of an improvement, either).

But I think Stenehjem owes it to North Dakota voters to shoot straight about his feelings on Trump.

This is hardly the issue upon which this primary vote will hinge, but a major weakness in Burgum’s campaign is that he’s not coming off as terribly authentic. The last thing Stenehjem needs to do, with Burgum hot on his heels, is to undermine his own advantage on authenticity.

I was critical of Burgum’s endorsement of Trump because I think it was less a reflection of Burgum’s actual preference than a calculated political move. But, hey, at least he articulated a clear, firm position.