Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tapio Teasing—More Reason for Borglum to Skip Primary, Run Independent

Now Neal Tapio is doing the striptease, blasting his Trumpy dog-whistles about national and local brown-people emergencies and telling the rabid that “more information will be provided soon” about his intent to lose to Dusty Johnson again. Come on, Neal—poop or get off the pot.

I could be persuaded that Tapio’s entry into the GOP primary for U.S. House could help Scyller Borglum in her own longshot GOP primary bid against Dusty’s pal, incumbent U.S. Senator M. Michael Rounds. Having someone else bang the pro-Trump, anti-establishment drum against South Dakota’s good-old-boy network could amplify Borglum’s message and boost her primary vote total. But that persuasion would depend on two key assumptions:

  1. GOP primary voters can contort themselves into the notion that the man sitting in the White House with the nuclear football is not The Establishment, and
  2. Borglum would think it’s worth getting in bed with a sexist, racist, reality-detached wingnut like Tapio just to raise her primary vote from 20% to 30%.

Tapio is not the candidate to help Borglum upset Rounds in the primary. To the contrary, he epitomizes the inability of the Trumpist anti-establishment wing to upset the South Dakota Republican Party primary apple cart. Tapio 2018, like Stace Nelson 2014 and Gordon Howie 2010, shows us that real radical outsiders have no path to victory in the South Dakota Republican primary. Tapio will only hyperpartisanize and Trump-sationalize a primary that Borglum wants and needs to be about real problems and policies. Tapio will suck all the press oxygen his way with his radical bomb-throwing, and Borglum will be shunted to the corner of voters’ minds as, “Oh, is she that quiet girl in the red dress?”

There are at least ten reasons Scyller Borglum can’t beat Mike Rounds in the 2020 primary:

  1. Incumbent Rounds will have no trouble mobilizing the good-old-boys’ network to crush her.
  2. Rounds owns at least 55.5% of the GOP primary electorate. That’s how many primary voters picked Rounds in 2014; since then, Rounds has done nothing—stop the sentence there and laugh for a moment, but then remember, doing nothing in Washington is exactly what the GOP primary electorate wants—to lose those voters.
  3. No Republican voter, donor, volunteer, or staffer has any good reason to publicly back Borglum against Rounds. Borglum has nothing to offer but truth and shellacking. Rounds and the establishment hold all the purse strings, patronage jobs, party appointments….
  4. Even Republicans voters not playing inside baseball will look at the two candidates and say their widely known, reasonably popular, and much better funded Senator is the better candidate to beat whomever the Democrats run in November.
  5. The national party has already thrown in with incumbent Rounds. They won’t let him lose.
  6. Trump won’t intervene: no matter how much Broglum cloaks herself in Trumpism, Senator Rounds hasn’t given Trump any hard Sasse that could prompt the thin-skinned billionaire to come campaign for a primary upset.
  7. Borglum’s best possible argument, that Rounds is part of the swamp that Trump promised to drain, has no takers in the GOP primary electorate, who are determined to believe that all of their candidates affirm their own moral purity.
  8. Beating Rounds will take money, and that money won’t roll into Borglum’s pockets by June.
  9. The gutsiest possible source of money Borglum could get to shake up the race, her Black Hills neighbor Stanford Adelstein, will never abandon Rounds, whose own upset primary victory Adelstein made possible in 2002.
  10. Every line Borglum can use to distinguish herself from Rounds—science degrees, work at School Mines, outsider status, newcomer to South Dakota—play as negatives among the GOP primary electorate.

If Borglum is pitching to the “exhausted middle,” she won’t find them at the polls in June. GOP primary voters are the exuberant extremes, the Republican die-hards who run in South Dakota on an inexhaustible supply of party loyalty and opportunist baloney. The last thing those party faithful want to hear is that the man they elected Governor and then Senator and who gave their kid a nice patronage career is a corrupt wishy-wash.

Borglum’s message of science, common-sense moderation, and apple-cart-upsettery is wasted on Lincoln Day Dinners. Her audience is the general electorate… which is why she should skip the primary and run in the general election as an independent.

Scyller Borglum's indy path to 47% in November 2020—speculation by CAH, 2019.08.12.
Scyller Borglum’s indy path to 47% in November 2020—speculation by CAH, 2019.08.12.

Borglum can win maybe a quarter of the GOP electorate. She’ll draw bigger among the Stace Nelson wing, which hates Rounds, and maybe among the RINOs, the folks who register Republican purely for appearances sake or for the opportunity to vote for sheriff in the primary. But those segments, along with a sliver of the GOP establishment majority slightly larger than the margin of error, get her 10% of the general electorate.

Borglum’s message is really for the burgeoning ranks of independents. If she forswears her party label now and spends the next fourteen months talking to all of the voters about how tired she is of partisan bickering and labels preventing us from having real choices, discussing real issues, and solving real problems, the 132,000 independent voters in South Dakota (at current growth rates, possibly 144,000 by November 2020) will happily lean her way, adding 14% to her November total.

Borglum’s biggest chunk of the electorate could come from Democrats. She already has Democratic allies who will eagerly rally to her side. If she could convince the Democratic Party not to run a placeholder for U.S. Senate and instead focus its resources on winnable Legislative races, and if she could tone down her Trumpist rhetoric and focus instead on the damage Mike Rounds does to our South Dakota body politic with his absolute swampiness, she could win the vast majority of Democratic votes, perhaps more from the Sanders/Harris-change-minded young than the party-label-purist old. Keep a Democrat off the ballot, and Democrats give Borglum another 22%.

I spot her another 1% from the Libertarians. She could walk into the next Pizza Ranch convention and promise them the simple honest, principled alternative to fake Republican conservatives that Libertarians crave. She could offer to goose their U.S. House and Legislative candidates with a little logistical support. She could offer to mention their brand and their candidates in her press and stump speeches as examples of how we need to hear from more voices than Rounds and his propaganda-meisters in Washington and in South Dakota. Excite the Libertarians, and they muster their full registry in favor of Borglum.

That puts independent Borglum at 47% in November. That’s still not winning. But it’s twice the percentage she’ll get trying to upset Rounds in June, and it gives her opportunities to speak to anti=establishment voters in three categories—independents, Democrats, and Libertarians—who will give her zero help in June and maybe just the help she needs to pull off a squeaker in November.

Scyller Borglum, if you’re serious about winning, if you’re serious about uprooting the good-old-boys’ network and giving disenchanted voters a real voice, go talk to those disenchanted voters. Get away from the primary electorate. Get away from the Tapio freak show. Talk to every voter—run as an independent.


  1. Donald Pay 2019-08-13

    This is an interesting analysis, but I would find it hard to vote for her. Earlier she was making noise about researching rural education, a subject that needs a solution. Cory and others thought it was just a ruse to introduce herself to a broader audience that could lead to running for higher office. I took her at her word. I was wrong. Cory was right. What happened to her study? She used that important issue for her own self-aggrandizing publicity. Unforgivable.

    She’s kinda all over the place, politically, which means she’s not much more than a doll with movable appendages. She’ll tell you what she thinks you want to hear. She’s in it for herself, not for the people.

    She has some science credentials, but I’m not so sure she’s a good scientist. She appears to be little more than a prop in photos that the shale researchers at SDSM&T used to pretty up some photos. She skips around to a lot of positions, and doesn’t appear to do anything. So, I’m not impressed.

  2. Porter Lansing 2019-08-13

    Neal Tapio, by my research, had a seriously messed up childhood and it’s become an adult psychosis. Now, after being shut down for racist, nationalism against Middle Eastern born New Americans he’s gone after Muslim high school boys in Sioux Falls.
    We know your Dad didn’t love you right but you don’t have to project onto kids (just acting like kids) the exact way many of us did. That’s how boys become men, Neal. You weren’t allowed to mature normally but leave other kids alone to grow into American citizens. Minority children have enough obstacles without your twisted self getting in the way.

  3. Kal Lis 2019-08-13

    Douglas Adams predicted Tapio’s candidacy and qualifications a long time ago:

    “The available worlds looked pretty grim. They had little to offer him because he had little to offer them. He had been extremely chastened to realize that although he originally came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and Armagnac, he didn’t, by himself, know how any of it worked. He couldn’t do it. Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it.”

    That said, I worry that the Trump worshipers will rally to him.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-13

    Donald, you are an attentive voter whose observations should be taken seriously. Borglum does need to define herself… but I don’t think there’s any definition available to her that gets her to the top in a South Dakota Republican primary. Winning in June requires some foothold in the GOP; Borglum doesn’t have that. The two major upsets in recent GOP primaries—Rounds 2002 and Noem 2010—required the arguable party favorites (Kirby and Barnett in 2002, Nelson in 2010) to make mistakes and the underdogs to get big money from some established portion of the GOP. Borglum has no built-in constituency in the GOP who have reason to help her against Rounds.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-13

    Kal Lis, Trump worshipers had the opportunity to rally around Tapio in 2018. They did not. Is anything different in 2020? Will Tapio be able to better capitalize on Presidential Election-year excitement? Remember, even if Tapio doubles his 2018 vote percentage, in a two-way race against incumbent Dusty, he still loses.

  6. Steve Pearson 2019-08-13

    GOP primary voters are the exuberant extremes – Proof of this? Otherwise, intellectually dishonest.

  7. Kal Lis 2019-08-13


    I am just going to do some old school policy debate blip responses.

    First, If memory serves, Tapio entered the race rather late in 2018. Again, my memory may be faulty, but I thought Krebs went for the Trumpian vote. Krebs/Tapio had a combined total over 50%

    Second, the Republican party seems to be getting more Trumpian by the day.

    Third, Dusty cast a vote against the wall. I may be wrong, but more South Dakota Republicans seem to care about the wall than tariffs.

    Fourth, Nate Silver shows Johnson’s Trump support as being lower than expected relative to Trump’s 2016 win.

    Rounds, for what it’s worth, shows a higher than expected agreement with Trump.

    Fifth, those Democrats or Independents who registered R to vote against Trumpists will likely participate in the Democrats primary because the Presidential nomination race may not be over. I don’t know how big that total is, but in a close race every vote counts.

    Finally, that Murphy fellow was an opitimist.

    Some of my points may be obviated by the fact that Tapio seems to not have learned from 2016 and continues to dither while Johnson is campaigning.

  8. Moses6 2019-08-13

    Tapio and powers awesome. can we do better.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-13

    Steve, define how “intellectual dishonesty” is different from “honesty.”

    I am always honest on this blog. I say nothing to deceive. You know this, Steve. You thus are lying about my character.

    As to the substance of the question: are primary voters a more exuberant and extreme subset of the general electorate?

    Obviously, Yes.

    Independents don’t get to participate in the SDGOP primary, and hardly any of them show up to participate in our Democratic primary. That important segment of the general electorate is evidently less eager to participate and by definition less inclined toward partisan extremes than those who do participate.

    Sheer participation numbers support my statement. Fewer people vote in primaries than in the general. It’s not that Group A of voters show up to vote in primaries, and then a whole separate Group B shows up for the general election. Primary voters are the folks who are more exuberant about voting. They show up to vote every chance they get, while another section of the population doesn’t join them at the polls until the general election.

    The Brookings Institute backs up my thesis with data: Primary voters are more extreme, and GOP primary voters are more extreme than Democratic primary voters:

    The next figure shows the breakdown of congressional primary voters by ideology. Here the two parties differ in ways that support the “asymmetric polarization” thesis of Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein. While voters in both parties skew to the extremes, the number of very conservative Republican primary voters is substantially greater than the number of very liberal Democratic primary voters and there are many more moderate Democratic voters than moderate Republican voters. These findings, presented in Figure 12, give substantial weight to the theory that congressional primaries are a cause of polarization in the House of Representatives—polarization that has been driven by extremity on the Republican side [Elaine Kamarck and Alexander M. Pudkul, “The 2018 Primaries Project: The Ideology of Primary Voters,” Brookings Institute, 2018.10.23 ].

    The same Brookings survey finds that primary voters themselves by and large see themselves as more extreme than other voters in their Congressional district. So don’t ask me, Steve; ask the primary voters themselves: they’ll tell you that I’m right about them.

    Now if you want to debate that, go ahead, Steve. Evidence to the contrary could be important for helping Borglum figure out whether she has a better shot of winning a Senate seat running as a Republican or as an independent. But Steve, your drive-by question doesn’t do anything to question the basic premise: in a one-on-one race against Rounds, Borglum can get a higher percentage of the vote from the general electorate—indies, Dems, Libs, and GOPers all together—than she can from the GOP primary electorate. Do you have any refutation to that main point? Can you at least grudgingly admit that I’m dead right about Borglum’s chances before we traipse off to your distractions? Or is distracting yourself from the point that I’ve offered reasonable analysis the only reason you raised your point in the first place?

  10. Porter Lansing 2019-08-13

    GOP primary voters are the exuberant extremes.
    – According to a common line of thinking, campaign donors and primary voters are pulling politics to the extremes. However, most Americans, the story goes, would prefer their legislators to chart a moderate course. Wrong! Disengaged, primary, and infrequent voters who allegedly constitute the moderate middle are actually more likely to endorse extreme policies than politically active voters.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-13

    Yay for Kal Lis blips!

    1. Yes, Tapio officially announced at the end of January, 2018. BUt he teased for months before that.

    2. Even if the GOP is getting more Trumpy, does that mean Borglum can distinguish herself by being more Trumpy than Rounds? On what issues has Rounds voted against Trump that Borglum could attack him?

    3. Dusty won’t lose on his wall vote. He already has half the party sewn up as pure crony establishmentarians. Another quarter will stick with because he’s so darn cute. He’ll win half the doubters back by talking up his smarter-wall plan. Dusty just has to run smart and hard and let Tapio talk himself into constant embarrassment.

    4. There’s no arguing with Nate Silver.

    5. What Democratic primary? If there is one, what independents? When we offered a gubernatorial primary in 2014, participation was 11%.

    Oh yeah, I keep forgetting : there’s a Presidential primary coming. But that point then supports my point: any Dems- and indies-at-heart who register to vote for sheriff in GOP primaries could help Borglum in a mid-year primary, but they’ll bail en masse to go cast votes on the Democratic primary ballot and leave Borglum even higher and drier against the Rounds machine.

    Finally, I agree that Murphy was a master of understatement. Tapio, like a true Trumpist, is incapable of learning. He will bleat the same bleat, barf the same barf, and achieve the same result in 2020: victory for Dusty. As you aptly note, he continues to dither, just like he did in 2017, when what he needs to do is hitch up his belt and go screaming down the warpath.

    And Borglum needs to get real, get out of Tapio’s way, and run as an independent… assuming she is a rational actor who wants to maximize her chances of winning. If, however, she’s an idealist who believes that she is truly a Republican and can’t compromise her principles by running as anything else—or, more cynically, if she has adopted partisan affiliation as her core value—well, don’t let me stand in the way of a idealist who’s more interested in excruciating consistency than in electoral victory.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-13

    (Policy Debate Blip will forever be my primary second language.)

  13. grudznick 2019-08-14

    French Math is Mr. H’s third language. Young Ms. Borglum, as pretty as she is in her red pants from the rear, would drag down about 15% if she runs as an Indy. grudznick has mathed, the American way.

  14. Kal Lis 2019-08-14

    A few more blips just to stay in practice.

    1. The Nate Sliver links give the Rounds votes

    2. The crony establishment became the crony establishment by understanding who butters their bread. If they believe Trump owns the butter they will go full Trump. The South Dakota establishment, to the best of my knowledge, is not a haven for never-Trumpers.

    3. The only person who knows why Borglum is running is Borglum. There’s nothing that indicates she can help herself or that any other candidacy will have have coat tails to help her. Grudz’s math sounds about right to me.

    4. We agree that Tapio is his own worst enemy. Trusting people to make the mistakes so that they do no harm always makes me nervous

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-14

    I agree that in a normal general election contest with Rounds and a Democratic nominee, an indy Borglum wins 15%, maybe a Presslerian 17%. But keep the Dems out, and Borglum gets a much higher percentage than that, and quite possibly a higher percentage than she can in a Republican primary whose voters consist exclusively of Republicans, a hugeh majority of whom will mad at her for daring to challenge the ordained order of GOP things.

  16. leslie 2019-08-15

    Seems like she has already pledged her life long undying love for Republicans. I would like to see her upset Marion’s applecart, but ultimately the senate chair Mike monopolizes will be the Democratic Party’s.

Comments are closed.