(WASHINGTON) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, largely refused on Sunday to weigh in on GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment.
But he acknowledged in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” that “I believe that Joe Biden won the election,” marking the first time on the trail he has said that.
Following that declaration, Burgum told “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos: “I believe that we have to move on to the future.”
Stephanopoulos had been pressing Burgum for his view on Trump’s alleged conduct in challenging the 2020 results: “It’s not simply a legal question, sir. It’s a moral question. It’s an ethical question. It’s a question about civics.”
Early in Burgum’s appearance, Stephanopoulos said, “I know you want to talk about your campaign and the future, but the fact is that Donald Trump is the front-runner right now. He’s facing three felony indictments. Have you read the indictments, and what’s your reaction to them?”
The governor avoided commenting on if he had read Trump’s three felony indictments — all of which Trump denies — and his opinion on if Trump was wrong in pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Everybody’s innocent until proven guilty,” Burgum said, adding, “We should be talking about the energy, economy and national security.”
He also said he thinks “there were irregularities in terms of how the election went” in 2020, though no election officials our courts have confirmed any fraud large enough to change any of the results.
Burgum argued that voters in the first two primary states are not interested in discussing Trump’s mounting charges, and if they are they can simply consume any of the constant news coverage about it.
What the public cares about, according to Burgum, are some of the same issues he has focused on as a presidential candidate, including inflation, border security, the United States’ relationship with China and the opioid overdose epidemic.
“There’s an entire industry built around commenting on President Trump, and I’ll just leave it to the pundits,” he said. “I mean, we’re in a position today where when we’re out talking to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, they’re not asking about the indictments.”
Burgum, a former business executive in his second term as governor, launched his White House bid in June. According to FiveThirtyEight, he currently polls in the bottom tier of GOP hopefuls.
On the trail, Burgum rarely utters Trump’s name, if at all.
“We have an opportunity to improve every American life. We’ve got to be looking to the future. Not to the past. Presidential campaign should be about the future, not about the past, and that’s what we’re bringing that voice to this to this campaign,” Burgum said on “This Week.”
He said that everyday Republican voters are suspicious of why Trump is being charged and if, elected, he would seek to restore institutional credibility. “The folks in Washington have to understand that if they’re surprised why Trump is leading the polls, it is basically people pushing back and saying, ‘Hey, we don’t trust the system,'” Burgum said.
Stephanopoulos interjected, again asking Burgum for his personal view: “Do you have an opinion on the fact that the President Trump tried to overturn the election as alleged in the indictment this week by special prosecutor Smith?”
He continued to distance himself from the topic.
“I’m not a lawyer. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m someone who leads and operates businesses. I care about the people of this country — and you’re asking me basically a legal question. We’re focused on the future,” Burgum replied.
Later in the interview, Stephanopoulos followed up: “You’re not answering my questions about the front-runner who you need to defeat in order to become the presidential candidate for the Republican Party. … Do you believe that President Trump has disqualified himself?”
“Most of America doesn’t know who Doug Burgum is. It’s the job of a campaign to try to explain to people,” he said. “When I was in business and we were a startup …. We didn’t start by saying, ‘Oh, we think the guys that are in the lead have got all these problems.’ We talked about what we could do for the customer, what we could do for our partners, what we could do to improve their lives and their businesses.”
He went on to say: “Every question we get is about the past and not the future. I’m running for the future of America. And we’re going to keep talking about that at every stop.”
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