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Commentary: In North Dakota, Trump should address trade and Heitkamp's hypocrisy

columnist Rob Port

MINOT, N.D.—This probably won't be President Donald Trump's only rally in North Dakota this election year. Reliable sources tell me he'll be in the state again before Election Day, probably in the Bismarck area.

It is his first visit since election season began in earnest, and there are a couple of things he needs to accomplish.

First, he needs to deflate North Dakota U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's attempts to portray herself as a moderate Democratic ally of his agenda.

While it's certainly true that the one-term senator has voted with the president more than half of the time, as her campaign messaging reminds us relentlessly, it's also true that she's voted with his agenda significantly less than even the least Trump-friendly Republican senator.

Watching Heitkamp go from a full-throated supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016 cycle, while the North Dakota Democratic Party described Trump as "vile" and "unfit for office" in their messaging, to casting herself as a friend to Trump in 2018 has been nothing short of surreal.

That sort of hypocrisy deserves to be called out.

Heitkamp's feint toward Team Trump isn't likely to survive a rebuttal from Trump himself.

More importantly, though, Trump needs to calm fears over trade.

He's attempting to renegotiate trade deals on multiple fronts in the middle of a superheated midterm election. That's no easy task what with candidates and political operatives bent on crafting a self-serving narrative working themselves up into a lather over every every shift in the market.

Still, in politics perception is reality, and what we are hearing from some in the region's agriculture community is that they feel as though they're being used as bargaining chips.

In 2016 farm country was Trump country. Trump needs to reassure his base in our part of the world that he's got their best interests at heart.

He could also spend some time speaking to the manufacturing industry in our part of the world. While the president is fond of touting the benefits of his trade policies to the domestic aluminum and steel industries, the reality for manufacturers is that those policies have driven up their costs by inhibiting access to cheaper metal from other parts of the world.

Trump lashing out at Harley-Davidson this week for announcing a move overseas sure seemed to this observer like something right out of the Obama administration's playbook.

Trump and his supporters argue that the motorcycle company had long been planning the move and was only using trade tariffs, and the resulting hike in the cost of metal, as an excuse.

Maybe that's true, but Trump's attacks on the company sound reminiscent of former Vice President Joe Biden telling us all that sitting still for higher taxes is patriotic.

The majority of voters in this part of the world love Trump, and the (richly deserved) political jabs he's likely to launch at Heitkamp and her cronies promise to be entertaining, but some of the president's policies are hitting people here right in the old bank account.

He shouldn't ignore that.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort