The Democratic Brand Is So Toxic in North Dakota Democrats Lie and Call Themselves “Independents”

Former state Sen. Mac Schneider accepts the endorsement for U.S. House at the Democratic convention March 17. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Over the weekend the Grand Forks Herald published an interview with Democratic U.S. House candidate Mac Schneider. In the interview, Schneider described himself as an “independent.”

Schneider, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, visited for an hour last week with the Herald’s editorial board. The board noted that it asked his opponent, Kelly Armstrong, if Armstrong is a “Trump Republican.” Armstrong responded affirmatively.

The Herald subsequently asked Schneider: “What are you?”

“I’m a North Dakota independent,” he said. “That’s how I tried to lead the caucus when I was in the Legislature — in a bipartisan fashion, working together to best suit North Dakota.

That’s a bit rich.

Anyone familiar with Schneider’s work at the Legislature is familiar with his approach to leadership there. It was generally cordial, sure, but explicitly partisan. Schneider was not above maneuvers and gimmicks calculated to benefit Democrats, politically, as opposed to promoting good policy for North Dakota.

But it’s Schneider branding himself an “independent” that is really something to behold.

I understand the political tactic. The Democratic party’s brand in North Dakota is extremely toxic. Senator Heidi Heitkamp knows this as well. That’s why, during the 2012 election cycle when she was on the ballot for the U.S. Senate for the first time, she skipped her party’s national convention. She, too, often described herself as an independent in that cycle. And then promptly voted with the Democratic party and President Barack Obama more than 90 percent of the time during her first year in office, only moving back toward the center in her voting habits as she approached the end of her term.

What Schneider and Heitkamp want us to believe is that they, too, will enjoy the support of a national political organization but they will eschew that organization’s expectations of them when it comes to governing. Instead, they tell us, they will be independents.

Yet why should Democrats like Heitkamp and Schneider get away with this?

Very often Democrats and other critics of Republicans demand that local members of the party – people like Congressman Kevin Cramer, Senator John Hoeven, Governor Doug Burgum – answer for policy decisions made by national Republicans. Up to and including the often off-putting antics of one President Donald J. Trump.

Local Republicans should have to answer for that stuff. They’ve chosen to affiliate themselves with the Republican party. They are given the financial and organizational support of the Republican political apparatus in exchange for an expectation that they govern generally in line with Republican principals.

What Schneider and Heitkamp want us to believe is that they, too, will enjoy the support of a national political organization but they will eschew that organization’s expectations of them when it comes to governing. Instead, they tell us, they will be independents.

They are lying, and the only real question is just who they’re lying to. Is it the Democratic party faithful who invest millions of dollars and countless hours into electing liberal policymakers who align with the party? Or is it North Dakota’s generally right-of-center electorate?

I suspect it’s the latter, given the example of Heitkamp in 2012. She campaigned to the right, and then got into office and promptly governed to the left.

Schneider, I’m afraid, would do the same. The “I’m an independent” schtick is just that. A bit of razzle dazzle for the rubes.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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