Instead of attending caucuses last week, I found myself standing outside Target on the phone with one of the most astute political observers in the state, who is genuinely politically independent. No names but you’d know it; the really good ones don’t appear on local television. The outlines of what would turn out to be the lowest attended Republican caucuses in history were already visible but not yet confirmed. We talked about the impending entry of Tim Pawlenty into the governor’s race, my column last week lamenting it and Howard Root’s rebuttal less than 24 hours later on behalf of the donor class.
“Pawlenty is the Republican’s best shot at winning,” I heard. “But he can’t win in Minnesota in 2018,” was my reply. “I said shot, not winning.” With that agreeable stalemate in hand, I went inside to see what I needed that Target would be out of.
* * * *
Root’s rebuttal was oddly personal but I don’t think he meant it personally. Before he got to the putative merits of Pawlenty running, I was called an “incendiary provocateur,” who “writes and tweets every anti-establishment thought that comes into [my] head.” Moreover, and however expressed, those thoughts were termed “bloviating,” which means to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way. The way he described my triggering the establishment practically read like a cause of action sounding in tort.
Root wholly mischaracterized, intentionally I must assume, the point of my column as saying Pawlenty is not a perfect candidate and has issues, to which his considered response was “duh.” If that were my point, the inelegant response would be merited.
In fact, my point was Pawlenty represents the donor class and its untalented minions in the establishment attempting to commandeer a race through sheer financial and political muscle, happy to ride roughshod over the base of the Republican party and its preferences. Those people just vote and can be conned; serving the special interests that puts them into office is the job of candidates like Pawlenty. One would have thought my explicit comparison of him to Jeb! made that clear.
Root claimed I said Pawlenty shouldn’t run and then proceeded to make the case for why he should, which essentially was more choices are better than fewer. Only I never argued that Pawlenty shouldn’t get in the race, but maybe running up points against strawmen is how some keep score. Speaking of choices, I’m all for them. Perhaps the donor class could rouse itself from their torpor and scrounge up a candidate for Secretary of State, for which Minnesota Republicans currently have none. Then again, what’s in it for them in an office like that? Mere good governance isn’t what animates those folks.
We were then treated to some weird, atavistic Minnesota authenticity appendage measuring contest and told that Pawlenty doesn’t have small hands, “nothing disqualifying there.” I half expected to learn Tim’s favorite hot dish. “My mother died when I was 16” is a quite pitch for a third term as governor, but maybe “exceeding polite” and “looks good for 57” will clinch the deal in the face of the onslaught from A Better Minnesota that has already begun.
While Root gamely relitigated the merits of Pawlenty’s previous terms, “No, I didn’t suck” is hardly a winning political mantra in the here & now. I never learned from him what Pawlenty stands for, what he actually believes in. Perhaps the results from the focus groups aren’t all in yet.
But I think I know why: it would require the admission that Pawlenty is solely a donor class based candidacy. The great unwashed voters are simply a means to their ends. Time will tell if they’ll do as they are told and eat the dog food.
* * * *
Republican caucus attendance was a disaster. On this there was widespread agreement because the numbers left no choice. This is the first one I didn’t attend that I can remember. I’d like to think I’ve served my time in the sparsely populated trenches of Saint Paul so spare me the lecture.
What people didn’t agree on was what it meant: a clear signal that caucuses should be done away with or an alarming sign that enthusiasm among the base is dangerously low? I think it’s both.
The shortcomings of the caucus are self-evident and maybe someday we’ll move to a primary proper. But for now they are the vehicle at hand and the remarkable showing by Democrats should be the focus of our concern, if not outright worry.
Explaining away the strong DFL turnout by pointing to an off year election, and continued Trump Derangement Syndrome among the progressives of this state, only goes so far. In other words, it doesn’t explain the lack of enthusiasm on the Red Team.
What do Minnesota Republicans believe? Can’t be smaller government when they controlled the legislature and increased spending by ten percent, even though they send fundraising letters that insult our intelligence by pretending to be for it. Legislative members tour the state thinking it’s good governance to visit locale after locale in their assessment of where precisely to ladle out government dollars.
No one is rewarded for standing up for the things most Republican officials run on but govern away from. There’s no avoiding the rank and fundamental hypocrisy that permeates Minnesota Republican politics in this regard. Maybe the lab rats are tired of hitting the right button only to never get the promised reward? Perhaps this is why so many stayed home caucus night. Eventually, people tire of going through the motions.
* * * *
This election is an extinction level event for Minnesota Republicans: if we don’t win the governor’s race the party ceases to exist in any meaningful way as a statewide political entity. It will instead become permanently what perhaps it already is: an assortment of special interests represented by people whose primary goal is staying in office whether or not the ideas they espoused in order to get there are realized.
With their professional politicians and hangers-on staff, a milieu of sordid businesses both profit and non which services them, and a donor class timid yet avaricious, Minnesota Republicans have waged war on their base either actively or passively for some time. The party endorsement means something until it doesn’t, and it usually doesn’t when it threatens the established way of doing politics. All hope, no change you might say.
I’ll support Pawlenty if he’s our candidate as strongly as the endorsed candidate that comes out of Duluth in June. Like the nation in 2016, Minnesota is in the balance this election. Unlike the mendacious and opportunistic Pawlenty who called Trump unhinged, unfit to be President and demanded he quit the race, I’ll do so because I can see through a flawed candidate to the higher stakes. Winning the primary threatens to shatter the base, of course, but that’s apparently a cost worth incurring for Pawlenty, who will pay none of it should he lose as he’ll simply resume grifting.
Minnesota is bordered by states that are governed by Republicans. The Democrats here are not superior to those in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. No, the problem is with what Republicans in Minnesota have and have not become. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
This is the inescapable year of reckoning and it is a reckoning that Republicans must have with themselves. We’ll know if that’s been successful by the results in November because extinction will leave no doubt.
* * * *
In addition to Alpha News, John Gilmore is also a contributor to The Hill. He is the founder and executive director of Minnesota Media Monitor.™ He blogs at MinnesotaConservatives.org and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy. He can be reached at John@alphanewsmn.com.