The Pawlenty Problem

Speculation about whether Pawlenty will get in the race is a symptom of underlying problems that face Minnesota republicans but to which they can't admit.

In any chin-stroking, which passes for political analysis in these parts, about the Republican gubernatorial field in 2018, the name of former Governor Tim Pawlenty is never far off. Usually these discussions involve quickly going the down the list of the declared candidates, with an obligatory “Is Speaker Daudt in or out?” and coming to some predetermined conclusion about each of them. In both the discussions about the race, as well as the candidates themselves, one can’t avoid a sense of staleness.

Consequently, throwing Pawlenty into the mix serves, short term, to alleviate a certain boredom that, alarmingly, has already crept into the race. This isn’t a good sign for Republicans but we’re not supposed to notice such things. Process is the focus and mastery of inconsequential details substitutes for rigor and purpose. Mostly, it serves to mask a shifting group of politicos and their courtiers who believe in virtually nothing except their own self interests.

Yes, it has always been thus but has it ever been this obvious, the contempt toward those who observe, by which I mean the voters? On a federal level Republicans have shown their manifest incompetence, their cheerful parading of their Stockholm Syndrome. On a state level, most Republicans purposefully choose to come across as DFL-lite. It is only because the alternative to them is atrocious that they stand any chance of victory next year. I hope both will do well given the Democrats by-now-blindingly-obvious electoral death wish, coupled with a desire of most Americans to see the President’s agenda fully implemented. If they do win, it will be because of, not despite, Trump.

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Pawlenty-longing, then, is a symptom of Minnesota Republicans’ current predicament. Controlling the legislature is not a predicament, one might argue, and in and of itself it is not. But the last legislative session was a disaster, so naturally Republican leadership ran around the state, Pravda-like, declaring it “historically productive.” The only people who believed this were those peddling it. Republicans delivered for their donors but not their putative base. I’m mystified by those who can’t see the obvious. It must be an acquired trait.

Nostalgia for Pawlenty, I think, is of a piece of nostalgia for Reagan. The latter is usually deployed by those who don’t understand what happened last November and whose ordered place in the swamp, writ large or small, is necessarily threatened by it. Amusingly, it is the very people wishing for Reagan who did the most to move “conservatism” away from what they claim he represented. Today’s insiders cling to this Gipper theme in order to bolster their tattered bona fides against an ascendant populism that is itself born from their betrayals of that to which they gave lip service while selling out wholesale their vaunted, fake principles.

My coldest stares are reserved for those Never Trumpers who tell me of their delight in his sterling judicial nominations.

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Pawlenty got as far away from Minnesota, geographically & culturally, as possible after he left office. Heading up the Business Roundtable for a million dollar plus salary, replete with a midtown Manhattan penthouse, Pawlenty served the interests that served the interests which sold out the American working class in both parties. You see this locally in Republican officials who bray about their 100% approval rating from some ghastly Chamber organization, pretending that that is the same as being conservative. Or those who attend cheesy Chamber breakfasts in some wasteland of a suburb, like something out of John Updike. Please clap is taken literally in those circles and they do, with gusto. Believe me.

Pawlenty has little to recommend himself should he get in the race, aside from being responsible for needlessly higher electricity prices in Minnesota born of presidential aspirations. Name recognition certainly is not nothing but after that, what? Last week he played coy about those prospects while playing the dilettante about artificial intelligence at the University Club in Saint Paul. The audience was filled with many who worked for him when in office. On the upside, should he run (possible) and win (doubtful), he would come preinstalled with his own swamp.

Pawlenty got Trump and the political zeitgeist utterly wrong. To be fair, he had a lot of company in the Republican Party, which only tells you how badly out of touch it had become with its own base. Still, many of those have wised up somewhat since last November 8 and he might be one of them. However, when the future of the state is on the ticket, a return to the past seems like an electoral no sale.

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Kurt Daudt may get in the race but would anyone notice? Let me channel Hillary: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” What does he run on? A promise to increase state spending even more than the 10% he presided over? Daudt and his hangers-on overestimate the support for him among those who likely will be delegates and alternates at next year’s state convention.

But if they decide he’s our guy, I’m all in. Last year I pleaded with Minnesota Republicans to support Donald Trump; if they had to hold their nose, then hold it. I can hardly exempt myself from my own standard and retain any self-respect. Minnesota is lost if Republicans lose.

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The “Pawlenty problem” then is a lack of candidates, a bench, who interest the activist base and it is they who will decide who our gubernatorial candidate will be, because all declared candidates have agreed to abide by the endorsement. Others have pointed out that it takes substantial financial resources to run in a primary without recognizing that the observation is in fact an indictment of the status quo. I know of few people who believe that the endorsement process necessarily results in the selection of the strongest general election candidate.

Republicans have no declared candidates for Secretary of State nor for Auditor, while those running for Attorney General have shown zero understanding as to why that position has been held by Democrats for the last fifty years. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln.

Our sole declared candidate against Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a nice guy but in reality is Kurt Bills 2.0. We’ve been unable to defeat Mark Dayton and Al Franken, twice each. Read that sentence again, please, as it succinctly summarizes the present condition of Minnesota Republicans.

Perversely, to the establishment, Trump and the political environment he has created offers real hope of a win a year from next month, even in Minnesota. The difficulty lies in the local professional political class refusing to admit that to themselves because it is an indictment of them. So be it, lesson learned, get on with it, and instead of contempt for the voters they pretend to value, it would be decent of them to say thank you, sorry for having been part of the problem lo these many years.

People want a different sort of politics and will be attracted to those who authentically offer such. It’s not too late for Minnesota Republicans to understand that and to adapt. The problem, it seems to me, is that a safe, mediocre present is preferable to them over an improved future that requires risk taking to get there.

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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 and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy. He can be reached at Wbua@nycunarjfza.pbz 

Photo credit: Politico

John Gilmore

John Gilmore is an author, freelance writer & former opinion columnist for Alpha News. He blogs at & is @Shabbosgoy on Twitter