Port: What if what wins elections isn't what's good for the country?

Politics has become a game played merely to win, with candidates saying whatever it takes to win this election, without a lot of thought put into what their words and actions might portend for anything beyond the second Tuesday in November.

Cara Mund, an independent candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, turns in signatures to get on the ballot at the North Dakota Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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Minot, N.D. — I'm a sucker for a good baseball metaphor, so when Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic about what the "moneyball" approach to America's pastime has done to the game's appeal as entertainment, and what that might mean for other areas of our lives, it caught my attention.

Moneyball, for those of you who aren't baseball nerds, is an analytics-driven approach to the game which, undeniably, gets results, but also makes the games longer and more boring to watch. It wins games, sure, but it also hasn't been good for baseball as a product.

The same can be said of our politics, and the new style of snotty, snarky, social-media-driven campaigning which now permeates it.

Thompson argues that there are two types of games in life: the finite and the infinite. "A finite game is played to win; there are clear victors and losers," he argues. "An infinite game is played to keep playing; the goal is to maximize winning across all participants."

The democratic process through which we choose our leaders ought to be the latter. A game played to choose the best leader who will do the most good for the most people.


Sadly, it's often the former. A game played merely to win, with candidates saying whatever it takes to win this election, without a lot of thought put into what their words and actions might portend for anything beyond the second Tuesday in November.

"It's going to be painful, but Republicans can't just turn away from Trump. Republicans have to lead their people away from Trumpism and the morass of conspiracy-addled grievance and unvarnished racism it has become," Rob Port writes.
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Take, for instance, North Dakota's U.S. House race, which features independent candidate Cara Mund, who styles herself a political outsider though she was certainly insider enough to have the Democratic-NPL's elites pressure their candidate off the ballot and out of her way earlier this year.

Mund is in the process of an ugly, hyper-negative campaign in which she's thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Republican incumbent Kelly Armstrong.

She started her campaign saying she chose to run because of the abortion issue, but since that didn't get her a lot of traction, she's since changed her tune to a litany of left-wing policy priorities that Armstrong voted against. Armstrong, to his credit, hasn't gone negative on Mund, focusing his campaign on his resume and accomplishments in office.

Mund, meanwhile, seems willing to say whatever it takes to get power, including baseless claims of misogyny.

She's playing the finite game; Armstrong the infinite. Only one of these campaign styles is good for democracy.

Our Senate race, meanwhile, features a Republican incumbent, John Hoeven, who is challenged, from the right, by former Republican Rick Becker, and from the left by Democratic-NPL candidate Katrina Christiansen, each of whom have made anger the center plank of their campaigns.

They're hoping, if they can inspire enough hate for Hoeven, that one of them can win the election. It's, again, a finite game.


Incumbents should have to work to get re-elected. That's good for democracy.

The particular challengers these incumbents are facing this year, however?

North Dakota's voters deserve better. The challengers aren't likely to win, but they could have made it a better sort of race.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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