Port: Maybe partisanship wasn’t such a bad thing

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — The modern dysfunctions of American politics are not the product of partisanship but rather a lack of it.

I’m not talking about bipartisanship, a term we use interchangeably with “compromise.”

It is a necessity to governing.

Rare are the moments in our system of government when one political faction can govern without the need for buy-in from opposing factions.

The sort of partisanship I’m talking about are the actual political party structures.


The hierarchies of power politicians of the past had to scale in order to become truly influential.

Those structures have been flattened, and while that may be appealing to some in this very populist era, I’m not sure it’s good for our country.

The man who won the Grand Old Party’s presidential nomination in 2016 wasn’t exactly a member in good standing of the party.

President Donald Trump has switched his party affiliation numerous times over the years. During the campaign he threatened to run as an independent so many times he was asked to sign a loyalty pledge to support the party’s nominee if he didn’t win.

Across the aisle, the Democrats saw Sen. Bernie Sanders give Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the party’s primary process. This despite the fact that Sanders is only a kinda-sorta Democrat.

He has identified as an independent throughout his career in Congress. While in the House he refused to caucus with Democrats , though he does so now as a senator.

In Congress, both parties have struggled to control factions who care very little for established traditions of seniority and order. Republicans have been given fits for years by conservative factions with their roots in the “tea party” protest movement.

Democrats delighted in the discord at the time, but these days Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat who has invested decades into ascending to her place of power and seniority — struggles to wrest control of her party’s narrative away from “The Squad.”


That contingent of recently-elected, hard-left Democrats often drive entire news cycles with their social media antics and bomb-throwing rhetoric.

Some of you are no doubt reading this and asking, what’s the problem? Whether it’s The Squad or insurgent conservative Republicans who made their bones at tea party rallies, the “establishment” or the “old guard” is finally getting the short end of the stick after years and years of arrogance.

What’s not to like?

The lack of order, for one thing. Without it the always messy business of politics is chaos.

And rarely are sound policy decisions made amid chaos.

This column is not intended as longing for the days of party bosses and political machines, but what was wrong with a process that required ascendent politicians gain experience and pay their dues before wielding the power they aspire to?

We may never have that again. Aspiring politicians don’t need political parties like they once did. Social media, and the internet generally, gives just about anyone the access to fundraising and audience the political parties once controlled.

Many see this as a good thing, but for me the jury is still out.


Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Robb Jeffries (he/him) is the Night Editor for and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Robb can be reached at
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