Friday Mailbag: Why do Republicans still support Trump? Where do we draw the line in media coverage of criminal cases? Is Heidi Heitkamp really a hypocrite? Does decorum still matter?

A supporter tips his hat as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a campaign-style rally at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D., on Wednesday night, June 27, 2018. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

MINOT, N.D. — Welcome to your Friday, readers! It's time for another mailbag column. I skipped last week because I was supposed to be on vacation -- I ended up publishing a few pieces anyway, I suck at recreation -- but here we are again.

Remember, you can always send a comment or question for this column to Submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.

Mike asks: Why do Republicans still support Trump? Why do Republican candidates emphasize that they are Trump supporters? I do not know why you and your Republican friends still support him, but I am confident that historians will not remember Trump and his supporters kindly.

I'm not sure I'd describe myself as a Trump supporter. It's more that I can't support much of what the Democratic party stands for today, and as odious as Trump is most of the time, as a practical matter of policy, he's better for my part of the world than the alternative.

I agree with Mike that history isn't likely to treat Trump kindly, and for a lot of excellent reasons. His behavior, for one, is disgusting. But do voters care about that? Or do they care about their families and their ability to make a living?


Recently a group of Democratic Senators, many of them former presidential candidates, urged a federal judge to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline . Do you have any idea how devastating that would be for North Dakota's economy?

Meanwhile, Joe Biden, the man who would replace Trump, made Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a part of his campaign to advise him on climate change policy. How do you think the ideas she comes up with will impact North Dakota's energy and agriculture-based economy?

For all the talk about how divisive Trump is -- and he is, no dispute -- his critics forget how divisive his predecessor was. "In the past decade my party lost over 1,000 state legislative seats, nine U.S. Senate seats, 62 House seats and 12 governorships," a commentator wrote in 2018, referring to the Obama era. That sort of political backlash doesn't just happen. It was caused by the Democratic party's near-total abandonment of the issues voters care about in central and rural America.

An abandonment that happened during the Obama-Biden administration.

Do you know who that commentator was, writing in 2018? Former North Dakota Sen Byron Dorgan .

There are plenty of North Dakotans voting for Republicans today, up to and including Donald J. Trump, who would vote for the right Democratic alternative. But is the Democratic Party of Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden capable of fielding that alternative?

I have my problems with Republicans in the Trump era, but if you're pitting an argument about decorum against the well-being of voters, you're going to lose.

Democrats should spend more time contemplating why so many Americans prefer people like Trump and his acolytes to their candidates.


Rich asks: Concerning the Ditmer case in Casselton, how do we walk the fine line between abusing an accused person's Sixth Amendment rights, and the press' First Am endment rights? Why is an arrest news? Shouldn't the news cycle begin after the person is found guilty by trial? What is more important, the rights of the press or the rights of the people accused?

Rich is referring to my May 17 column about a self-defense shooting in Casselton , and he's asking some critical questions. When someone is arrested in a high-profile incident, they get media coverage. Their mugshot is often publicized as well as other details about their life. But what happens if that person ends up being innocent?

How do they put their lives back together when headlines about their arrest, not to mention their mugshot and usually a whole lot of ugly social media commentary, are sitting out on the internet for anyone to see?

It's a problem, and I'm not sure what the solution is. I don't think it's what Rich is proposing, which is a sort of media blackout in these cases until there's a conviction, because the problems that would create are far worse.

The criminal justice system represents one of the most awesome powers the government has -- the authority to deprive you of your liberty, your property, and even your life. The exercise of that power must happen in the sunlight, and that means the public, including the news media, having reasonable access to every step of the process. Without that transparency, I'm afraid the rights of the accused would be even further diminished.

Collin writes: I read your commentary about the hypocrisy of Heitkamp's vote against Kavanaugh and endorsement of Biden. Your article includes Biden and Clinton (10+ years ago) as accused. Yet you fail to include Trump. Talk about hypocrisy. Particularly when you consider that in Biden's and Kavanaugh's cases, it is unproven and probably unprovable allegations. Whereas in Clinton and Trump, there is ample proof that the misconduct did, in fact, occur. I am a fan, and most often find your opinions/articles are factual and balanced. However, when you engage in such blatant political misspeak, it disappoints me.

Here's the column Collin is referring to . He interpreted it as a defense of Trump, mostly because I didn't mention the accusations of sexual misconduct against the president. I had more than one reader point this out, and it left me curious.

Donald Trump is no doubt guilty of a lot of very terrible behavior, but does that excuse hypocrisy from his critics? Does a politician like Heidi Heitkamp get a pass because Trump's a terrible person?


I certainly don't think so.

Heitkamp has always tried to posture herself as a champion of sexual assault survivors, but that's undermined by her deeply political treatment of those issues. She was willing to conclude that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh must be guilty of the accusations against him, based on something as absurd as his body language . Yet, she dismisses the allegations against Joe Biden, a person she has endorsed to be president.

That's not the first time Heitkamp has made that sort of politically convenient calculation.

While she initially called for the resignation of former Sen. Al Franken when multiple women accused him of misconduct, she later backed off the demand when it became a less pressing political matter.

Heitkamp's hypocrisy is, unfortunately, not at all uncommon in American politics today. Many Trump supporters, for instance, who dismiss the accusations against the president, as well as the accusations against Kavanaugh, are all too willing to believe the allegations against Biden simply because he's a Democrat and Trump's opponent in 2020.

But these hypocrisies do not cancel each other out. They're all worth talking about.

John writes: Thank you for your piece on the state treasurer's race. While not a member of a political party, I hold values, some of which are held strongly by Democrats and others, which are long rooted in the Republican Party. Quality and character mean a great deal.

I've received a lot of criticism for my coverage of the heated NDGOP primary in the Treasurer's race (here's the specific piece John was responding to ). I've been tough on state Rep. Doug Johnston -- he's taking on state Rep. Thomas Beadle in a competition for the nomination -- particularly for some pretty obnoxious behavior he's gotten up to on social media.


Critics tell me I shouldn't care so much about that sort of thing, and I understand why they're saying that. With the president of the United States bellowing invective and conspiracy theories on Twitter every day, some racial jokes on Facebook maybe don't seem like a big deal.

Except, they are a big deal. Call me old fashioned, but I think decorum still matters. Integrity still matters. If we don't expect it from our elected leaders, we're sure not going to get it.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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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