Jeff Johnson’s sweeping victory over former Governor Tim Pawlenty last night marked a sea change in Minnesota Republican party politics, the fallout from which likely will last a long time whether or not Johnson prevails in November. From the moment returns started coming in, Johnson got off to a commanding lead and never relinquished it. That itself was a surprise as most thought the lead would change once or twice depending upon where the votes were coming from. In the end, and as I write, Johnson won by an astounding 9%. No one I know in either campaign thought the margin would be this comfortable, even flipping matters with Pawlenty prevailing. It was supposed to be close either way and manifestly it wasn’t.
Something has happened to Minnesota Republican politics: it grew up. Gone now are those ensconced in comfortable jobs who thought they held sway over our politics in perpetuity: staffers, aides, elected officials themselves, donors, vendors, consultants instate and out, media advisors, pollsters, all the denizens of the arthritic panoply that attempts to pass itself off as an opposition party, but which had over time become simply a lazy way of making a living, with the accoutrements & perks that come from holding some semblance of power, more often than not in an inferior position relative to the DFL but one which worked for them.
Delivering for the base that put these creatures into those positions increasingly became an afterthought, which was itself a form of arrogance. Minnesota Republicans would dutifully vote for them because of campaign blandishments made on the trail but which were never seriously considered to be put into actual policy. Leadership, strength, courage, conviction: all buzzwords on mailers that attempt to fool voters and bore no relation at all to their senders’ actual performance.
“Believing your press clippings,” that now antiquated phrase, describes the separation of reality from publicity, from spin, from PR, from artifice. The Minnesota Republican establishment long ago started believing their own press clippings, much of which was self generated. The Pawlenty campaign most completely embodied that mindset, rote, automatic, unquestioning, entitled, eventually disdainful of those voters who would seek more from it in return for their vote. It was a good run while it ran, but that run ran out last night.
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In exiting his election night party, Pawlenty told the media “The Republican party has shifted. It is the era of Trump and I’m not a Trump-like politician.” And Jeff Johnson is? He reminds people of Trump? And what were those cheesy “Make Mining Great Again” caps his running mate thrust into the hands of an unwitting President Trump when he came to Duluth if not trying to be Trump-like? This is simple dishonesty, an inability to take personal responsibility for a poorly run campaign. “Not fitting in” to the Trump era is not why Pawlenty lost but I doubt he’ll ever understand that. I had hoped for better from the former governor but upon reflection I don’t know why. I’ve written previously that if he lost, Pawlenty would blame the voters. He did just that but even then he got it wrong.
The Republican party is right where it has always been: it’s just that its voters got fed up with the frauds and accomplished con artists who pretended to represent them. It did anything but, joining with the Democrats to hollow out our industrial base, degrade our way of life in countless ways, flood America with people who don’t particularly care for it, launch countless and pointless but costly wars, and insist all the while that things were fine because their flat screen televisions from China continued to fall in price while their wages stagnated. Let’s not get started on suicide rates and opioid addiction. Republican voters, joined by many others, had had enough of being gaslighted.
What did Pawlenty think his case to Minnesota voters was? “Been there, done that, let me do it again?” His attack ad on Johnson was catastrophic. A competent campaign would have shifted tactics, tried to repair the damage and accentuated the candidate’s strengths. It did none of that. Worse, it doubled down, launching a website designed to show Johnson as insincere, if not a liar, in his support of Trump but which only served to remind people how much they hate politics as usual. Candidates who remind voters of what they don’t like rarely win.
The Washington Post’s Bob Costa, in a late night tweet which I saw because I’m writing this late, said “Pawlenty’s comeback bid in MN was encouraged by GOP leaders and donors because it looked like not only a way to win the governor’s mansion, but a way to reassure themselves that someone like him could still be a player. Mild-mannered, Sam’s Club pitch but loved by C-Suite types.” Notice how the voters, and their real life concerns, never are mentioned in that calculus? Last night Minnesota Republicans did.
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It didn’t take long, unfortunately, for disappointed and bitter Pawlenty supporters to show their disgust at the rubes who refused to eat the dog food, despite an advertising budget that outspent Johnson ten to one. They’d just suffered an unexpected loss so I tried to be understanding. But all of Pawlenty’s supporters need to get onboard if we are to beat Tim Walz come November. There were several standouts who did just that last night, including Peter Glessing, Gina Countryman and Reps. Kelly Fenton and Nick Zerwas. They were an antidote to the other tweets I had seen. Apologies to those who tweeted similarly but who I missed. Just this morning, Pawlenty tweeted his support of Johnson & encouraged his supporters to get behind him. When people ask me what the answer is to the things I write about I say “Copy the Democrats.” I’m quite serious. We’d be better off if we did what they do and here, they come together to support the winner of their primary. If we’re to save this state, we must as well.
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President Trump this morning tweeted: “Jeff Johnson of Minnesota had a big night in winning the Republican nomination for Governor against a very strong and well known opponent! Thanks for all of the support you showed me. You have my complete and total Endorsement. You will win in November!” He’s not about to forget that support and will make certain Johnson has the resources necessary to compete effectively. Believe me.
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For his part, Johnson was exceedingly gracious in his victory remarks toward Pawlenty, saying “he made me sharper as a candidate and we will be on the same page starting tomorrow morning. He’s told me that and I believe him.” For the sake of Minnesota, I hope that is true. We’ll know soon enough.
Finally, I’m not sure people realize just how hard Jeff Johnson, his running mate Donna Bergstrom and their entire team worked in order to win this primary. Pushing aside the sheer discouragement that came from the establishment and smart set (which reduced down to more money and name ID), Johnson stayed in the race after Pawlenty’s entry despite enormous pressure and, how shall we say?, rewards if he exited it.
But Jeff Johnson stayed in the race for all the right reasons. He said what he did for all the right reasons. And last night, in something that doesn’t happen too often in Minnesota Republican politics, our base rewarded him for all the right reasons.
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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
Photo credit: MPR News