Zaleski: North Dakota got ‘Cramered’ on Election Day

Now that political campaigns are done -- dirt settled, mudslingers off the airwaves -- it’s time for a retrospective.

North Dakota Republicans -- the delightfully sardonic among them -- created a verb a few years ago: “to be Cramered.” It’s a reference to Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., soon-to-be U.S. Sen. Cramer. It’s a slur that has its genesis in Cramer’s callous ambition, which has been the unprincipled motivation of his political life. He has regularly thumbed his nose at his Republican Party, instead charting his own course to elected office when he was not the party’s endorsed choice. He waited until timing was right for him before announcing he would seek office, holding back as other Republicans jumped in, spent money, developed campaigns and made commitments that were blown up when Cramer made his move. Republicans would shake their heads in disgust, and kvetch they had been “Cramered.”

Among those who were Cramered: former public service commissioner and congressional candidate Brian Kalk, who is no longer in politics; short-lived candidate for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, who should stay out of politics.

Cramer’s methodology, as dishonorable as it is successful, puts the lie to words attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Lincoln’s wisdom notwithstanding, Cramer has fooled most North Dakotans most of the time. On Election Day, nearly the entire state got “Cramered.”

North Dakota is deeper red, said the politicos. Well, duh! But, why? I think the change since about 1992 has been driven in large part by the demographics and economics of farming. Small family farms in the classic and now mythical sense tended to be Democratic. The record reveals that when small farms and ranches failed and were absorbed to create vastly larger enterprises, the family farm archetype gave way to an agribusiness model. Big business generally tilts Republican. Nostalgically stereotyped “family farms” no longer are a Democratic force because most are gone. Mega-farms are integrated into large-scale agribusiness systems, which favor Republican notions about regulation and taxes.

It also is about prosperity. Republican canon can be simmered down to: “I got mine and to hell with you.” Democratic doctrine can be stripped to: “I’ll help you if you do what I tell you to do.” Red trumps blue when times are good in North Dakota.

Not everywhere. In Fargo and in several eastern counties, voters trended blue. No surprise. The population is younger, more educated, open to new ideas and welcoming of newcomers. Business leaders and investors are social innovators. They embrace change and look outward to the wider world, rather than build walls and enshrine exclusivity.

Sorry to see friend and colleague Mike McFeely give up his morning show on WDAY AM radio. A journalist through and through, he wants to devote more time to newspaper writing, online commentary and family. I understand why he’s backing away from the punishing daily grind of talk radio. Nevertheless, his perspective, grounded as it is in genuine journalism ethics, will be missed.