McFeely: After rumors of Trump, NDGOP gets a letdown with Zinke
Ryan Zinke is no Donald Trump. He's no Mike Pence. He's no Sean Hannity or Dana Loesch.
Is he a Scott Baio? He might be a Scott Baio.
But Zinke is not anybody who would be considered a top-flight A-lister to fire up North Dakota Republicans at their state convention in Grand Forks this weekend. Yet that's where he'll be, the party announced this week. His main job as the keynote speaker will be to light a fire under GOPers so they'll lift Rep. Kevin Cramer to a victory this fall over Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who they've obsessed over for six long years.
Zinke isn't exactly a rousing start to that mission.
He is the semi-obscure Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, a former one-term Montana Congressman who most North Dakotans probably hadn't heard of until Trump nominated him to a cabinet post shortly after winning the presidency. Zinke's claims to fame thus far mostly involve controversies, whether it was the $139,000 in taxpayer money spent for doors in his office or his use of taxpayer-funded charter planes.
How else would an Interior Secretary's name get in the headlines except for scandals?
In an administration riddled with investigations into improper spending and accusations of corruption, Zinke fits right in. He's not yet Tom Price, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services who resigned after a charter flight scandal, nor is he Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency who may soon be out of a job after ethical accusations against him piled up, but Zinke is no angel.
Stepping in the muck of controversy is nothing new for Zinke. Even his 23 years in the Navy SEALS were tinged by ethical lapses involving—what else?—travel. Zinke was punished for billing the government for personal travel to Montana in the 1990s, an error that prevented him from rising to the highest levels of command.
Why North Dakota Republicans are bringing him to speak to the faithful might seem easy enough to figure out politically: Zinke is a former military guy and an oil and gas industry cheerleader who will try to hammer Heitkamp on a number of issues, including her vote against repealing Obama-era rules limiting methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells located on public or Indian lands.
If that, indeed, is why Zinke was chosen—as opposed to, say, he was the best North Dakota GOPers could do after swinging and missing at bigger names—it wouldn't seem to be an issue that would get the rank-and-filers frothing at the mouth. Clearly, it'd be nothing like Trump railing about building a wall or Pence praising the almighty tax cuts or Hannity ranting about guns and Hillary Clinton. Zinke pontificating about flaring natural gas is hardly stuff of memorable speeches.
For an election cycle with so much on the line for North Dakota Republicans—defeating Heitkamp, who they despise—Zinke hardly carries the star power for which they must've hoped.
Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5379