Port: Nobody wants to be the king of the clowns
Rep. Rick Becker was left with few good options. The ranks of his allies have been thinned, he's alienated vast swaths of his own political party, he's earned the enmity of leaders in the state's medical community, and the Trump-driven political shift that fueled his metamorphosis from thoughtful libertarian into a populist culture warrior isn't aging well. Who can blame him for opting out?
MINOT, N.D. — Wednesday evening I got word from my sources in legislative District 7 that state Rep. Rick Becker, the founder of the Bastiat Caucus wing of the North Dakota Republican Party, wouldn't be seeking re-election to his seat this cycle.
I was told he wouldn't be on the ballot at all for any race.
Later in the evening, Becker made that news official with an announcement to the dozens tuning into his local television show.
The activists in the Bastiat wing of the NDGOP, who have been fanning the flames of division in North Dakota's dominant political party for some time, will insist that they have the momentum. That they represent true Republicanism, as opposed to all those Republicans In Name Only, and are poised to take over.
Becker's decision to retire from elected office tells us a different story.
I can't say I'm surprised at the development.
I argued that the writing was on the wall for Becker's political career two weeks ago.
I'm told by sources in District 7 that Rep. Rick Becker will not be running for re-election to his House seat, nor will he be running for the state Senate.— Rob Port (@robport) January 20, 2022
He apparently will not be appearing on a ballot this year.
Let's consider the situation he finds himself in.
This spring the Bastiats attempted to organize a takeover of the NDGOP's district-level leadership. They threw everything they had at the effort, and got almost nothing for it .
Redistricting wasn't kind to Bastiat lawmakers. People such as Sen. Jason Heitkamp, Rep. Mike Schatz, Rep. Terry Jones, Rep, Gary Paur, Rep. Kathy Skroch, Rep. Sebastian Ertelt and Rep. Jeff Magrum saw their district lines redrawn in ways that diminish their chances of re-election.
The Bastiat ranks will almost certainly be diminished when the Legislature's 2023 session convenes.
A publicity stunt at a recent meeting of the NDGOP's state leadership fizzled when some Bastiat-aligned district chairs marched out of the room in protest of proposed rule changes to the party's endorsement process. Few joined them , and the Bastiats ended up standing outside the meeting in the cold while the rest of the party went about its business inside.
When the NDGOP picked a new chair last year, they didn't choose Bob Wheeler , an outspoken anti-vaxxer and Facebook keyboard warrior who had the backing of the Bastiat wing.
Meanwhile, Becker was facing a challenge to his endorsement for re-election on the NDGOP ticket by a leader of his own district party. Retha Mattern, the vice-chair of the District 7 Republican Party, announced a campaign for the House before Becker , the incumbent.
I don't have to tell you, dear readers, that a party leader challenging their own incumbent is not something that happens very often.
On a professional level Becker, a plastic surgeon by trade, is now facing calls for action against his medical license because of his pandering to anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists. While I think such an action would be a mistake , there's little doubt in my mind that the criticism factored into Becker's decision to give up his political career.
Becker was left with few good options. The ranks of his allies have been thinned, he's alienated vast swaths of his own political party, he's earned the enmity of leaders in the state's medical community, and the Trump-driven political shift that fueled his metamorphosis from thoughtful libertarian into a populist culture warrior isn't aging well .
Who can blame him for opting out?
As for what's next, I've had many speculate that Becker will attempt to lead his movement as a political pundit.
Color me dubious.
The ratings for his television show are so low they're difficult to measure through the traditional surveys, and his digital audience doesn't seem much larger. On Facebook, his videos garner maybe a few hundred views per episode . The last episode he put on the show's YouTube channel garnered seven views after more than a week online.
You read that right.
There's a video of a guy farting on a snare drum that has almost 9,000 views.
I'd be surprised if Becker was still doing his television show a year from now.
It would shock me if he were a relevant figure in North Dakota politics at all.
We have a long way to go yet, but I suspect his decision not to run for the Legislature is the first sign that the Trump-era of politics in North Dakota, for all its sound and fury, is coming to an end.