Is Democratic furor over tax bill about the policy or re-electing Heidi Heitkamp?

Anyone who has made the unfortunate choice to read the overwrought, hyperbolic dreck issuing from the official social media accounts of the North Dakota Democratic Party could easily forecast how Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was going to vote on tax reform.

There was no way she was going to vote for a bill her state party was describing in apocalyptic tones. While Heitkamp postured, feigning interest in bipartisan negotiation on the bill, her state party and political allies laid the rhetorical groundwork for her inevitable vote against it.

One gets the idea Heitkamp, who invests a lot of energy in promoting herself as a cooperative sort of moderate, was never really interested in voting for Republican-backed tax reform at all.

The actions of Heitkamp and her in-state allies don’t indicate a good faith effort to find common ground with Republicans on important reforms. Rather, they indicate a concerted effort to manufacture political cover for a Democratic incumbent who is vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections.

Though perhaps not as vulnerable as Republicans would like us to believe given the only candidate they have in the race against Heitkamp so far is thoroughly underwhelming state Sen. Tom Campbell.

But that’s a column for another day.

Back to Heitkamp, her dance around the tax reform issue is instructive.

Remember the key to Heitkamp’s on-going political success is a moderate, centrist image she cultivates.

Heitkamp needs North Dakota voters to believe she’s willing to work with Republicans, up to and including President Donald Trump, at least some of the time.

Yet during the debate over what will almost certainly be the most consequential piece of public policy passed by this Congress, perhaps the most important reform of President Trump’s first term in office, Heitkamp was clearly unwilling to work with Republicans.

She claims otherwise, but the messaging from her state party and allied groups exposes the lie.

There is no way Heitkamp was actually interested in working with Republicans on the tax bill, there is no version of reality in which Heitkamp was really undecided on the reform, while her state party simultaneously attacked the legislation as something on the same moral plane as setting old people adrift on ice floes.

Which means Heitkamp’s indecision, and talk about negotiating with Republicans in recent weeks, was all a put-on. An act by a skilled politician who knows what rhetorical trappings she must deploy to win over voters.

Which, in turn, means we shouldn’t take Heitkamp’s “I’m a moderate” act too seriously.

When it counts, Heitkamp’s not all that moderate at all.

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