MINOT, N.D. — For the past several weeks, as local district chapters of the North Dakota Republican Party have held their reorganizing conventions, the Bastiat Caucus of Donald Trump-aligned lawmakers and activists have been attempting a takeover with what former Gov. Ed Schafer has described as "ruthless" and "inappropriate" tactics.
If you control the district chairs, you control the state party. The Bastiats have been showing up to try to shout and bully their way to power.
As I write this, all but one of the legislative districts have re-organized (District 30 will hold their event this evening, May 11). It has not gone swimmingly for the Bastiats despite a deeply coordinated effort by Minot-based activist Jared Hendrix, who has used social media and a website registered by his private consulting business to drive turnout at the conventions even as the Bastiats have, dishonestly, attempted to claim there was no coordination.
Despite this, the Coalition of the Normals — the name I'm giving to the mainstream Republicans whose pragmatism and generally sound governance have contributed to the NDGOP's dominance of state politics for nearly 30 years — not only held back the insurgency but actually managed to gain ground.
By my count, the Bastiat Caucus gained chairmanships in districts 40, 14 and 5 (they held some already, as House Majority Leader Chet Pollert mentioned recently, the Bastiat takeovers of legislative districts have been going on, quietly, for a few years now).
The Normies gained chairmanships in 17, 44, 16, 41, 21 and 39.
That's a +4 for the Normies when it comes to votes on the NDGOP's state committee and a -4 for the Bastiats.
The Normies also wrested control of the North Dakota College Republicans (an organization with a vote on the NDGOP's State Committee) after the former Bastiat-aligned chairman attempted to delay an election until after the state party reorganization in June in violation of the group's constitution and bylaws.
The CRs ended up holding an ad-hoc convention elected new leadership, and the NDGOP has recognized that leadership.
Frankly, the Normies probably could have done even better had they been aware of what the Bastiats were getting up to during some of the earlier district conventions.
As measured by district chairmanships, the power balance on the NDGOP's state committee is at 31 for the Normies and 15 for the Bastiats with one district to go.
As an aside, there was a nice moment during the reorganization of District 21 (Fargo area). After the Bastiats have taken over in some districts, one of the first orders of business has been to censure lawmakers for voting for the expulsion of disgraced former lawmaker Luke Simons amid accusations of sexual harassment (also voting against Bastiat-backed bills). The folks in District 21 passed a resolution commending those censured lawmakers, including
So what happens now?
In June, the NDGOP will hold its own reorganizing convention and elect new leadership, including state party chair, a position currently held by former Congressman Rick Berg.
I'm told that Berg is expected to seek another term as chairman, but there are some potential challengers. The names I'm hearing are Rep. Mike Lefor, who currently represents Dickinson's District 37 in the state House, and Perrie Schafer of Mandan, who is currently chairman of NDGOP District 31.
Both men are Normie-aligned.
I've also heard that the goal of the Batiats was to try and elect either former state Rep. Dan Johnston, a Qanon conspiracy aficionado who is chair of District 24, or Hendrix as party chair. Given how unsuccessful they've been in district takeovers, I'm unsure if those plans are still in place.
These are tempestuous times, and things can always change, but the way the political winds are blowing right now, Trumpism and the Bastiat Caucus are very much in decline in North Dakota.
(A previous version of this column described Johnston as a current state Rep. from District 24. That was incorrect. He did not run for re-election in 2020 but is currently the chairman of the District 24 NDGOP.)
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.