Port: Can someone explain to me what conservatives stand for these days?

If conservatives can't be relied on to consistently promote decency, patriotism, the free exchange of ideas, the free practice of religion, and fiscal restraint, then what is it, exactly, that conservatives stand for?

Demonstrators pray Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, at the "We the People" rally at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Kyle Martin / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — I am routinely accused of being a turncoat. A traitor to the conservative movement.

I refuse to be a follower of Donald Trump . I believe the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was as despicable as it was Trump's fault (among many others).

I have a belief, driven by empirical data, in the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Joe Biden won the election.

Mike Lindell is an obnoxious crank.


Democrats are not evil; they're just wrong most of the time.

For many, who think of themselves as capital-T, capital-C, True Conservatives, who spend their days fighting people they imagine to be Republicans-in-name-only, these sins make me an apostate. I'm told as much, every day, everywhere from my email inbox to social media to people I run into at the grocery store. Conservative talk radio host Scott Hennen , who employed me at one time and is these days a devout Lindell acolyte (for as long as his advertising checks clear, anyway), recently took to Facebook to lament my supposed turn from conservatism. "We clearly have lost his voice. Painful to watch unfold!" he wrote.

It's surreal to be lectured about ideological purity by someone who is known, in state political circles, as "coin-operated Hennen."


I don't take these accusations lightly. The conservative movement is near and dear to my heart. I still consider myself a conservative. But I'm beginning to wonder, just what do today's conservatives care about?
Is it free speech?

During last week's special session, the Republican majority in Bismarck passed a bill, introduced by Rep. Jim Kasper , R-Fargo, banning the teaching of critical race theory. It states , in part: "A school district or public school may not include instruction relating to critical race theory in any portion of the district's required curriculum ... or any other curriculum offered by the district or school."

What this means, in plain language, is that high school civics teachers can't even organize a lesson discussing the debate over Rep. Kasper's bill. I, too, am concerned about myopic, politically driven curriculum invading our schools, and I believe the Legislature has a place in ensuring academic freedom.

But this bill doesn't do that.


Meanwhile, Republicans in states across the country are leading campaigns to ban books from schools . Conservatives have gone from mocking "woke" liberals as snowflakes who can't abide robust expression of controversial ideas to indulging in their own censorious inclinations.

Is it religious liberty? At a recent rally, former general Michael Flynn , at one time the national security advisor to the Trump administration, said this : “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”

Before you dismiss that statement as nothing more than fringe kookery, consider that Josh Mandel, currently the GOP frontrunner in Ohio's U.S. Senate race, tweeted , "We stand with General Flynn," in response.

Mandel, it's worth noting, is Jewish, and his father survived the Holocaust.


Promoting one religion does not gibe with traditional conservative notions about religious liberty.

Is conservatism about decency? Republicans chose Donald "grab 'em by the p----" Trump as their national candidate in 2016 and 2020, and Trump's profane brand of politics has permeated the right. In San Antonio, on a recent Sunday, parishioners at the Cornerstone Church chanted, "Let's go Brandon."

Here in North Dakota, Rep. Jeff Hoverson , a darling of the far-right wing of the NDGOP, insulted his own Majority Leader during a floor speech. Another lawmaker from Hoverson's milieu, Sen. Jason Heitkamp , was seen during the last day of last week's special session in a pickup with "F--- Joe Biden ... and f--- you for voting for him," emblazoned across the back.

Photo: Senator Jason Heitkamp pickup
A pickup parked at the North Dakota Capitol in a spot belonging to Sen. Jason Heitkamp, a Republican from District 26.

Is conservatism about fiscal discipline? The pandemic-era economic interventions so many Republicans are today touting as the root cause of the price inflation that's afflicting us all began under the Trump administration. Remember his calls for $2,000 checks to every American ?

Trump himself is demanding political reprisals for the Republicans who voted for an infrastructure bill, yet under his leadership, the national debt grew more in four years than it did under eight years of his predecessor Barack Obama .

Is conservatism about patriotism? Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, scion of a once-powerful Republican political family, has been all but ostracized from the GOP for her efforts to hold the Trump administration responsible for the Jan. 6 riot.


Sen. John Barrasso, another Wyoming Republican, couldn't bring himself, in a recent interview , to condemn Trump for supporting calls to lynch Mike Pence , his own vice president.

"[T]he Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool," The New York Times reported last week . The report continued: "... in Congress, violent threats against lawmakers are on track to double this year. Republicans who break party ranks and defy former President Donald J. Trump have come to expect insults, invective and death threats — often stoked by their own colleagues and conservative activists, who have denounced them as traitors."

A recent survey found that as many as 21 million Americans believe that force would be justified to restore Trump to the presidency.

This is not patriotism, my friends.

So let's sum up: If conservatives can't be relied on to consistently promote decency, patriotism, the free exchange of ideas, the free practice of religion, and fiscal restraint, then what is it, exactly, that conservatives stand for?

Because, give the way many of its self-proclaimed adherents are behaving, it seems to have become a reactionary ideology rooted in opposing whatever it is the left supports.

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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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