OPINION: No one plays better than Doug Burgum

Editor’s note: Scott Jennings is a senior political commentator and Republican campaign adviser for CNN, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and the former campaign of Senator Mitch McConnell consultant. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky.Follow him on Twitter @scottjenningsky. The opinions expressed in this review are his own.See more View CNN.


The battle for former President Donald Trump's vice presidential pick has taken an unexpected turn — and if you believe the buzz machine in Washington, D.C., the current front-runner is a Western governor who, this time last year, many were heard of him.

Meet North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. He also ran for president in the Republican primaries, making it to several debate stages but never escaping the low single digits in the polls, eventually succumbing to Trump's strength like other candidates.

But since then, no one has played the game better than the affable former businessman-turned-Peace Garden State governor (although Burgum would question whether he even knows how to play political poker), and now he finds himself equally positioned Tickets for anyone to board the state.

Burgum was elected governor of North Dakota the same night Trump was elected president in 2016, having never previously sought public office. Both men ran outsider campaigns in both primaries and general elections to subvert insider types.

After eight years as governor, Burgum has a story to tell. North Dakota has a prosperous economy, ranks second in energy production per capita, and has low unemployment. When talking to Burgum about his record, you can sense his passion for innovation and a real understanding of what the federal government can do to help (and hurt) states, especially when it comes to energy policy.

After ending his presidential campaign, Burgum immediately supported Trump and became a reliable surrogate. Refreshingly, Burgum isn't performative or theatrical, and it shows. The North Dakota governor expressed a sincere and unwavering belief that the country must be saved from another Biden term.

“Working with President Trump as governor is like having a breeze blowing on your back,” Burgum said at a large Trump rally in New Jersey over the weekend. He added, “Biden's regulatory regime is like a strong wind blowing.” In your face because Biden bureaucrats treat our constitutional republic like a dictatorship.”

Apparently, Trump also likes Burgum personally. During Trump’s presidency, Burgum’s wife, Katherine, participated in a White House drug rehab program. She has been a strong advocate for those like herself who suffer from alcoholism, and Trump has publicly reflected on his late brother's battle with the disease.

What is Burgum's argument? He’s a middle-class American governor who cares more about the economy and the intersection of energy policy and national security than political self-aggrandizement; a self-made businessman who could be a boon to Trump’s campaign fundraising; He was a lackluster governing partner with a clear passion for taming the federal bureaucracy.

Oh — and he didn't turn his Dakota into a horrific pet cemetery, unlike his southern neighbors.

If you thought Trump was a casting director at heart, no one in America looks and sounds more like a loyal vice president than Burgum, who even accompanied Trump to court on Tuesday in a show of support . Burgum has proven his prowess in business and government, and Trump is sure to appreciate Burgum's efforts to defend the former president in criminal cases that he believes are politically motivated. Of course, Burgum isn't the only Republican politician to visit on the latest stop on the vice president's hopeful tour. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance accompanied the Republican presidential candidate to a Manhattan courtroom on Monday.

“In terms of knowledge, you can't find a better person than this gentleman… He probably knows more about energy than anyone I know. So, be prepared, well, be prepared. But Doug “Doug Burgum is awesome,” Trump said of his Jersey Shore stage partner.

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To be fair, Trump has many good, politically defensible options. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has an inspiring life story that could help Trump continue to convince African-American men who seem increasingly fed up with Biden and the Democratic Party. Scott was respected by all corners of the Republican Party and was a talented public speaker.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Sen. Vance are Trump's most diplomatic Senate surrogates, and they have no trouble explaining and defending the former president on national television.

Trump’s former White House press secretary and current Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik both strongly advocated for Trump. Defense, against Democratic attacks that are sure to come in the fall.

But in Burgum, Trump may see another version of himself — a successful businessman who began dabbling in politics late in life to try to dismantle a broken system run by incompetent politicians who couldn't get out of the wet. Innovative ways out of paper bags.

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