MINOT, N.D. — Recently the NDGOP chairman from a Minot-area district called me to ask if I'd participate in a fundraiser for the Minot Area Republicans.
What he had in mind was a dunking booth. Attendees could make a donation — he suggested $500 — to get three attempts to dunk me in the water. As an inducement for my participation, he offered to make a $10,000 donation to the charity of my choice and provide a microphone so that I could heckle the crowd.
I said no, to the disappointment of some of you, I'm sure.
I don't think the guy, businessman Jay Lundeen, intended to insult me. He pitched the idea as a way to open up a dialogue, noting my admittedly biting criticism of the Bastiat Caucus movement to take over the NDGOP. Once we put a pin in the dunking booth idea, we had an interesting conversation about what's dividing North Dakota's Republicans.
He told me he was prodded into becoming politically active this year when the Legislature failed to overturn Republican Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a transgender athletes bill. "I can't imagine how anyone can call themselves a Republican and oppose that bill," he told me.
There, my friends, is the rub.
The NDGOP has found generational electoral success through moderate, pragmatic, and generally conservative policymaking.
The Bastiat Caucus of Trumpy lawmakers, along with various activists aligned with them, would rather our state's leaders turn reactionary, aggrandizing themselves by implementing policy in line with whatever outrage du jour is driving ratings on Fox News and talk radio shows.
There's no room for nuance or honest disagreement.
I've spoken to Burgum in the past about his veto of that bill. He didn't see the problem it was intended to solve. The North Dakota High School Activities Association already has a policy for transgendered students, he noted, and in the absence of any evidence that this policy isn't working, why pass a new law?
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That is the conservative position, he told me. The government shouldn't pass unnecessary laws.
When I related this to Mr. Lundeen, he acknowledged the logic, but stood by his insistence that "real Republicans" wouldn't oppose that sort of a bill.
That sort of intransigence on everything from vaccinations and masking to transgendered athletes and abortion is what's killing the conservative movement.
Thankfully, we have signs that some Republican leaders are waking up to this reality.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earned himself a lot of derision during the Trump era thanks to his evolution from a pugnacious, independent-minded political figure to a disciple of the disgraced former president.
It wasn't a stretch, at times, to imagine Christie carrying around Trump's luggage, though there were lucid moments when it seemed to dawn on the one-time federal prosecutor that he might just have joined a cult.
Remember the hostage face?
Anyway, these days President Joe Biden is in the White House making everything worse, and Christie is calling on Republicans to get serious so that they can, again, be an effective check on liberalism.
"We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and the truth deniers,” he said in a speech last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. “The ones who know better and the ones who are just plain nuts."
"We need to quit wasting our time, our energy and our credibility on claims that won't ever convince anyone of anything," Christie said. "Pretending we won when we lost is a waste of time and energy and credibility."
He was talking about election conspiracy theories, but he could just as well have been addressing the anti-vaxxers (the people against the vaccines, to be clear, not those opposing government mandates).
"No man, no woman, no matter what office they've held or wealth they've acquired, are worthy of blind faith or obedience," Christie continued. "We deserve much better than to be misled by those trying to acquire or hold on to power."
This is a bit opportunistic. Christie has been riding Trump's coattails for five years. He could have spoken up before, and he didn't.
Still, even tardy truths are truths, and the truth Christie is speaking needs to be heard, not just by the Trump-obsessed base of GOP nationally, but right here in North Dakota too, where people such as Mr. Lundeen, and Bastiat Caucus founder Rep. Rick Becker (who, if we're going to talk about self-aggrandizement, described himself in a recent letter to the editor as "a rising national star of the freedom movement" to the hardy guffaws of many, I'm sure, who would note that Becker isn't particularly well-known in North Dakota) are promoting a narrow-minded, exclusionary version of Republicanism.
Even when these people aren't promoting conspiracy theories themselves, they certainly have no problem pandering to those who are.
If allowed to flourish, their view will help elect a lot of Democrats.
Conservatism needs to be about ideas for governing our society competently, balancing the real need for policymaking with the importance of protecting individual rights so that people can generally live and work as they wish.
Conservatism cannot be about promoting the careers and egos of politicians such as Trump, nationally, or Becker, locally.
When it becomes that, conservatism loses.
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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.