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Burgum Blasted Trump in 2016. Now He Is Auditioning for VP



Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum was bracing for disaster at the top of the ticket. “The Clintons might be the luckiest family in the world because Bill doesn’t win in 1992 without Ross Perot,” he told a North Dakota radio show eight years ago, “and Hillary doesn’t win in 2016 without Donald Trump.”

Burgum faded – and now has come back

But Clinton did fall to Trump that year, and the soundbite from the future governor of North Dakota, a bleak sentiment widespread among Republicans at the time, went largely unnoticed. Until now. Perhaps it won’t mean much. Although Trump is a man who knows how to nurture a grudge, he also possesses a mitigating trait – a “What have you done for me lately?” sensibility that may spare Burgum. Because lately, he has been a reliable soldier for Team Trump.

Burgum has recently catapulted from relative obscurity to the top of Trump’s list of possible running mates. Tall with wavy salt-and-pepper hair, the governor looks a bit like a modern George Washington. Some close to the former president describe him as “straight out of central casting” for a potential vice president. The entrepreneur who sold his software company to Microsoft before entering politics is rich, good looking, and loyal – qualities Trump values above all else.

And suddenly Burgum seems everywhere. He warmed up the crowd for the former president at a rally earlier this month, appeared outside a Manhattan courtroom to show his support, and mingled with donors at Mar-a-Lago. Trump likes what he sees. “He probably knows more about energy than anybody I know,” he told voters in New Jersey. “So, get ready for something, okay? Just get ready.”

Trump did not elaborate, and a VP announcement is not expected until sometime this summer.


A different feel eight years ago

Eight years ago, the October before the 2016 election and in the wake of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Republicans felt a different kind of suspense more akin to dread.

“It’s certainly been a challenge for Republican candidates across the country to have someone at the top of the ticket, who, through his own personal commentary or past behavior, is able to pull the party’s message offline and suck all the oxygen out of the room,” Burgum told radio host Rob Port when asked if he regretted his endorsement of Trump. “I don’t know if you’d go so far as to call it a disaster,” he continued. “I guess we will find out on November 8th.”

Clinton led in the polls, and many Republicans worried that the chaos that followed Trump was overshadowing the baggage and controversies of the former Secretary of State. A milder, more traditional candidate would have a better shot at exploiting those weaknesses and the White House, he told the radio host, perhaps “a guy like Lindsey Graham.”

“If you pick the most boring Republican presidential candidate you can imagine and you had him on the ticket right now, as long as that person wasn’t self-destructing with an absurd comment every day, then I think Hillary would be the person who is in flames,” Burgum said.

Trump reshapes the GOP

The rest is recent history. Trump not only won the White House, but he also remade the GOP in his own image, converting many skeptics and critics into close advisors and friends. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for instance, went from famously predicting that Republicans would “get destroyed” and “deserve it” if they nominated Trump to shepherding his Supreme Court nominations through the Senate. The Republicans who loathed Trump the candidate soon learned to love Trump the president.


A representative for Burgum declined to make the governor available for an interview.

The evolution of Burgum follows a similar trajectory. These days, he often tells voters that working with the former president was “like having a beautiful breeze at your back,” noting how Trump “respects state’s rights. He cut regulation. He lowered taxes.” By contrast, the North Dakota governor continues, “working under the Biden regulatory regime is like having a gale-force wind in your face.”

Burgum has proven a more effective surrogate than candidate. His focus on policy never drove headlines during the GOP primary, and the most press coverage he ever received was the result of an accident: The governor tore his Achilles tendon during a game of pickup basketball with his staff. He still made the debate stage in Milwaukee despite a boot and crutches, and he managed to avoid a more dangerous mistake in a Republican primary that amounted to little more than a race for second place.

Burgum avoids blowing the gaffe

Other than telling Chuck Todd of NBC News that he would not go into business with the former president, the entrepreneur avoided criticizing the Republican frontrunner. It was enough to endear him to Trump, as was Burgum’s decision to pull the plug on his campaign and endorse Trump. He was the first major candidate to do so.

“He was outstanding,” Trump said in January shortly after Burgum dropped out. “But the traction is never easy. You need controversy for traction sometimes, right? And this guy is the most solid guy.” Unaware of or unbothered by the governor’s past criticism, Trump added, “There is no controversy whatsoever, and he’s one of the best governors in our country.”


Burgum has leaned into that role as Trump vets him for VP, telling Fox News last week that as a governor “I’m on the front line of all the bad policies that Joe Biden is pushing on the American people.” At a Trump rally in Minnesota Saturday, Burgum told a crowd that rather than focusing “on driving our state in the country forward, all we do now is fight back and sue the federal government.” By his count, North Dakota is fighting the Biden administration on no less than 30 different rulemaking efforts.

Senators negotiating for him

Both North Dakota senators have been working behind the scenes to find a place for Burgum in a future Trump administration. “I’ve talked with President Trump about [Burgum], and I know that he likes him a lot and certainly I think he’s going to be a part of this administration. Now what role? We don’t know yet. But I think it will be an important role, and I think he’ll be a real asset to the Trump administration,” Sen. John Hoeven told the Washington Post.

While Trump welcomes the intrigue over his future running mate, his campaign declined to comment on Burgum’s past criticism of the former president. “Only President Trump will rule a contender for Vice President in or out,” Brian Hughes, a senior Trump advisor said before adding that “anyone claiming to know who he will choose is lying.”

The game has shifted since 2016, and the old playbook for wooing Trump doesn’t exactly apply, explained Scott Reed, a longtime GOP operative. Trump picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican beloved by fiscal and social conservatives, to secure his right flank eight years ago. “This time it is different,” Reed said, noting how Trump no longer faces a challenge from the right. “He will be looking for someone that can be a partner and somebody he can give real assignments to.”

What this governor can bring

A governor from an oil rich state like North Dakota might be a good place to start. “He is an expert on energy,” Reed said, an asset when “the first words out of Trump’s mouth every day is ‘drill, baby, drill.’” Another quality Trump likes? Burgum’s wealth. He sold his software company for more than a billion dollars, and according to Forbes, has an estimated net worth north of $100 million. After self-funding his own short-lived campaign, Burgum could potentially dig deep into his own pockets to help Trump close the money gap with Democrats.


The money, the looks, and loyalty haven’t won over everyone in Trump’s orbit. A source familiar with the former president’s thinking cautioned that eight years isn’t that long ago. “Lots of elected officials want us to forget they didn’t support Trump in 2016,” the source said before adding that some VP contenders are only flocking to the GOP nominee “out of self-motivation.”

“I hope he has his eyes wide open,” they added. “We can’t afford another Never Trumper in the administration.”

Burgum endorsed Trump in May of 2016 and again in 2020.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Philip Wegmann is White House Correspondent for Real Clear Politics. He previously wrote for The Washington Examiner and has done investigative reporting on congressional corruption and institutional malfeasance.


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