Grab Your Popcorn: It’s the Down with Establishment Campaign

There is obviously a significant portion of the American electorate wishing to stick their fingers in the eye of “the establishment”. If one looks back through history, establishments come and go. Where is the Federalist party now? Where is the Whig party now? In the fifties in North Dakota, the state Democratic party and the Non Partisan League merged into the Democratic-NPL party.

Thirty years ago, the “establishment” in North Dakota was the Democratic-NPL party. It controlled every partisan statewide elected office except a couple of seats on the Public Service Commission. The entire Congressional delegation consisted of Democratic Senators Conrad and Burdick plus Democratic Congressman Byron Dorgan. For the first time in state history, the Democrats controlled the state senate in Bismarck.

Fast forward to today and the Republican party holds every partisan statewide elected office, holds super-majorities in both the state senate and state house in Bismarck and holds two of the three Congressional seats. The sole survivor among the Democratic-NPL office holders is Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

It is above my pay grade to predict what the “establishment” in North Dakota will resemble in another thirty years. It is safe to say, however, that the voters will have more influence over that issue than the establishment.

At the national level, establishment figures are  fighting for their political lives. Hillary is facing a formidable challenge from the Democratic party’s “Dutch Uncle”, Bernie Sanders. Hillary is 68 and Bernie is 74. Who are the young and prominent Democrats who will run for President when the survivor of the 2016 Presidential race has either finished his or her term or terms or been beaten?

On the other side of the aisle, Jeb Bush, although carrying a household name, looks like he is in the political  outhouse. If Bernie is the Democrat’s “Dutch Uncle”,  Donald Trump, the Republican’s “Crazy Uncle”,  is giving the Republican “establishment” a major case of heartburn. Cruz is the most despised person in the Senate, but Congress has an eleven percent  approval rating with the general public. Meanwhile, the establishment Republican candidates all seem to be fighting for a narrower slice of the electoral pie than they anticipated. Where will it all end?

Meanwhile, here in good old North Dakota, the power of the Republican establishment will face an interesting challenge from Doug Burgum of Fargo. Burgum has the financial means to self-fund his campaign, having sold his high-tech startup to Microsoft for serious coin. He, at first glance, appears to have the potential of being a Donald Trump with manners. It is obvious that he can tell the voters with a straight face that no one owns him. Being familiar with the high-tech industry, he should know that the most prosperous area of the country (the Bay area of California) is also one of the gayest areas of the country. How North Dakota deals with that uncomfortable truth in the midst of a farm and energy commodity meltdown could be interesting. His fellow Republican rivals will undoubtedly be substantially funded  by the oil industry. Ask anyone out west and you will be told that oil has been a mixed bag. The oversight of that industry by the Republican establishment has been similar to the dog in the Sherlock Holmes novel who didn’t bark. If Burgum promises to be the oil industry’s friend instead of its pet, that just could be the sweet spot to resonate with Joe and Jane North Dakota. Let the games begin!

Jim Maxson

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