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Vice President Burgum Would Undercut a Second Trump Administration

For his virtues, the North Dakota governor is not an America First Republican.


It’s one of those weeks where you find yourself asking, of no one in particular, What the hell is the point of the Republicans?

It’s been a banner month or so. First, following a stiff talking to and a frightening slide presentation from the boys in our national security apparatus, House Speaker Mike Johnson folded like a glove-box map—that is to say, in a way that caused a great deal of consternation and frustration to everyone else in the car—and shepherded FISA renewal through the lower chamber. What’s a few more years of Fourth Amendment violations? 


This was followed by a similar performance on Ukraine aid. After receiving a lecture from the suits driven in from Langley, Arlington, and Foggy Bottom, Johnson decided that he had very deeply held but previously entirely unexpressed beliefs about Russian aggression and the necessity of America countering it. (Since he has never issued any statement about what he thinks Ukraine is about, or why Russia, after three years of failing to capture its next-door neighbor’s mailbox, will go sweeping through Poland like the Mongols, aspects of these beliefs will remain shrouded in historical mystery.) The infamous $61 billion got hustled through without any concessions for the portion of Republican voters who think that, while we’re at it, maybe something ought to be done about the border. The America First contingent in the House began to bay for blood, but a certain former president said he thinks Johnson is grand, just grand.

It is against this backdrop that we read reports that Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota and erstwhile long-shot presidential candidate, is moving up in Donald Trump’s VP contender ranking. 

I like Burgum. I like successful businessmen in technical fields. I think his name is fun to say. In this era of representational politics, men with interesting eyebrow situations on the national stage make me feel seen and valid. He has the rare, perhaps singular distinction of having spoken sense about the American healthcare system on live television. So far as I have read or heard, he has not had carnal relations with Corey Lewandowski. Nor does he give the unmistakable impression—the hallmark of your standard federal-level pol—that he is figuring out whether he can get away with eating the skin off your face. Under his administration, North Dakota has not suffered infrastructure collapse, insolvency, or Canadian invasion.

That all is fine. Yet a personality that doesn’t make children scream and a portfolio of bog-standard GOP state policies do not a vice president make. Take Burgum’s foreign policy statements. The man is a born hawk; like the savvier class of hawk, he tries to dress the fact up in concerns about China, but, rather than reevaluating American defense commitments in the European and Middle Eastern theaters, he thinks we should simply crack open another tin of foreign hostilities. “Russia cannot have a win coming out of this, because if it’s a win for them, it’s a win for China,” he argued on the campaign trail. His initial statement on Russia’s invasion underlined how bad it was for North Dakotan businesses with Ukrainian interests, which suggests no real intention of disentangling American economic concerns from the internal workings of foreign lands. He has emphasized the importance of continued American commitments in Western Europe. He has stated that “we are at war with Russia” and described funding for the Ukrainian war as a “bargain.”

For better or worse, Trump has proven a highly suggestible leader. (Who can forget his Bolton-era swing towards Middle East adventurism?) To some degree, this has been a bit of a wash; the revolving door of his first administration prevented anyone (besides maybe Jared Kushner) from leaving a deep impression on his policy. But you can’t fire a vice president. Do you want in the number 2 spot a guy, no matter how personable or decent, who is directly at odds with a fundamental plank of the America First policy suite?

Michael Anton’s 2016 essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” remains the seminal text for the American right in its current situation. The underlying argument is that voting for Donald Trump may not guarantee a good outcome, but it at least challenges the basic dysfunctions at the heart of the American order: deindustrialization, the collapse of national identity, imperial adventurism abroad. This is what sets it apart from the team-sports philosophy of voting red no matter who: The “Flight 93” framing applies only if the red team is in fact rushing the cockpit, is in fact challenging these dysfunctions. If it’s business as usual but with some tax cuts, who cares?

Mike Johnson is busily feeding the blob, ballooning the debt, and prolonging wars (and American involvement in wars). Social conservatives are being told to shut up and get in line. Burgum as VP will guarantee four years of an energetic war lobby within the administration. At that point, why not build some welcome centers in southern Texas and call it a day on America First?