GOP Senate candidates debate — well, agree — on big issues and Franken

MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
State Sen. Julianne Ortman, center, responding to a question at Tuesday's debate.

Seven (well, really six and a half) of the candidates for the Republican nomination to rid the U.S. Senate of the scourge named Al Franken debated (well, not really) at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park Tuesday night and agreed on almost every issue (which is why I said it was not really a debate).

They agreed that the government does too much, the debt and deficit are too big, President Obama is a weak and wavering leader, also a weak and wavering friend to Israel (did I mention that the debate was sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition of Minnesota?), and that Israel should not be pressured to make any concessions to get peace with the Palestinians.

They agreed that Obamacare is a horror and that it should be repealed. They agreed that access to abortions should be dramatically curtailed, if not completely banned (one of the seven disagreed on that). They agreed that military spending should be increased, the Keystone pipeline should be built — yes, and we need more fracking, too (added candidate David Carlson).

They agreed that “Funnyman Franken” (as candidate Monti Moreno decided to call him) has “abjectly failed” (as candidate state Rep. Jim Abeler said in his opening statement). Franken is “vulnerable” for reelection, they agreed, because of pretty much everything he has done since arriving in Washington, including casting the “deciding vote” for Obamacare (candidate state Sen. Julianne Ortman said), and is complicit in Minnesota having the highest educational racial achievement gap in the United States (candidate Mike McFadden said) and because Franken has “the wrong game plan” (also McFadden).

Ortman twice summarized her semi-humorous plan for dealing with Obamacare thus: “You keep your doctor and you change your senator.”

Bashing Franken

Moreno probably took home the Franken-bashing prize, calling Franken “a traitor to the Constitution.”

First-time candidate Phillip Parrish said he believed that “one cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong,” a remark that I personally did not recognize but I now know to be a phrase made by Abraham Lincoln. Parrish is a Naval officer.

(Update-correction-retraction alert: I have now learned that the common attribution of that quote to Lincoln is erroneous. The mistake is mine and I note that Parrish did not attribute the quote to Lincoln or anyone else. The management regrets the error. Hat tip: Rob Jacobs.)

They pretty much all said that the massive National Security Administration program for tracking the phone calls of ordinary Americans was wrong. McFadden noted that Franken was chairman of “the privacy committee” (technically, the recently formed Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law), and McFadden said this fact “concerns” him.

Ortman, considered the frontrunner for the Republican endorsement, rejected the notion that a balance must be struck between Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against improper searches and their need to be protected from attacks. Fourth Amendment rights are not to be balanced against anything, she said.

Peter Swanson, who represented absent candidate St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg (that’s why I said there were sort of six and a half candidates at the debate) said Dahlberg believes that Franken has been AWOL on the issue and that the Constitution is clear on the right to privacy.

They agreed on much more than that, although (as I alluded to above on the abortion issue) Carlson said he does not share the socially conservative views of the others and said he voted “no” on the proposed 2012 state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Carlson, a young ex-Marine who served in Iraq, said Minnesota is not a socially conservative state and that many young voters disagree with the conservative positions of many older Republicans on issues such as abortion rights and GLBT rights.

Abortion question

The issue of abortion came in the form of a question on whether, “from a pro-life point of view,” the candidates support “personhood legislation,” which I gather refers to a movement to get states to endow fetuses with additional legal rights. As I mentioned, Carlson was the only one to say “no.” The others said “yes,” except McFadden, who said: “I believe in pro-life at conception.”

Mike McFadden
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Mike McFadden at Tuesday’s debate.

I wasn’t sure what that meant and asked McFadden after the debate whether “pro-life at conception” meant that abortion should and could (notwithstanding the ruling in Roe v. Wade) be banned in the earliest stage of a pregnancy.

McFadden was evasive at first, then got angry when I pressed him and finally said “I am pro-life.” But if your pro-life position starts at conception, then would you ban all abortions? I asked. “I am pro-life. And I believe that life begins at conceptions.”

I’m still not sure how that translates into what someone might do as a legislator.

McFadden, the businessman and political newcomer who is considered one of the favorites for the nomination, was participating in just his second debate. He said he was running “because we can do better.” He said (more than once during the evening) that he favors a limited but effective government, and that Obamacare is neither limited nor effective. He described military cuts, which he opposes, that were part of the “sequestration” formula the two parties agreed on as “crazy” — as is any across-the-board method of cutting spending, he said.

The support and praise for Israel and its value as a U.S. ally was loud, long and unanimous. Abeler cited the Hebrew Bible as evidence that Israel was entitled to the West Bank territories, now inhabited mostly by Palestinians but which, Abeler said, are the biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, part of the land God promised to the Jews. Ortman said the Palestinians are bargaining in bad faith because their real goal is to destroy Israel and that there should be “no air” separating the United States from Israel.

But Moreno probably took the pro-Israel award with a series of statements that ended with the claim that he was the only candidate with “Hebrew blood.”

Because McFadden has risen to a prominent position in the race by virtue of his fundraising but without having a public record, without taking many concrete policy positions and without attending most of the previous debates, I thought the other candidates might take advantage of his presence to attack him. But there was little of that.

Ortman did slightly — in a coded fashion — by pointing out that people know where she stands because she has a record as a state senator, but a candidate who doesn’t respect the voters enough to tell the voters where he stands before the election, won’t respect them after the election either.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/02/2014 - 10:17 am.

    Another spell binding Republican debate

    It was nothing more that a session of Republican buzz words, Republican talking points, and of course there were no suggestions of how to fix that which they say is wrong. The Republicans are a hollow party. They are working off of Republican policies that have a long history of failure. I do prefer the Republican waste their money trying to remove Senator Franken and Governor Dayton. We know how fiscally responsible the Republicans are so to them this is a good expenditure, albeit it waste of both time and money. Where are the change the Republican’s are going to make to the party? So far nothing!

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/02/2014 - 11:08 am.

    Despite their total agreement

    the debate confirmed 2 things.

    1. Why the current Republican platform makes them unelectable.

    2. That my embarraassment that Ortman is my Senator increased yet another level.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/02/2014 - 12:07 pm.

    It’s called principle

    Of course you would expect republicans to agree on the issues. That’s why they’re republicans.

    When the democrats debate, the only thing they disagree on is who gets what and which saps are going pay for it.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/02/2014 - 01:41 pm.

    I can only wonder

    what Sen. Ortman’s position is on the erosion of the Miranda rule, given her position that 4th Amendment rights are not to be balanced with anything.

    As a non-Christian, I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone would base his or her support for Israel on the idea that it was promised to them by a god. I’ll have to check my Old Testament for the metes and bounds.

    Mr. Swanson may wish to check his candidate’s positions for consistency, in light of the connection made by the U.S. Supreme Court between a Constitutional right of privacy and abortion. (Tricky stuff, that Constitution.)

    Come to think of it, perhaps we need a Godwin’s Rule for politics: if you have to resort to religious doctrine (be it the Bible or any comparable religious work) to support your position, you lose. (In all modesty, I propose it be known as Hamilton’s Rule, although the Godloses Rule would be fine as well.)

    As for Franken, he’s done far better than I had expected him to, though I must admit to having had low expectations. Given the current Republican field and the state of the Republican party nationally, however, I feel I have no choice but to give him my vote once again.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/02/2014 - 02:07 pm.

    Love the logic

    Mr. Tester continues to amaze…

    When Republicans agree on everything, it’s because they’re Republicans, whatever that means.

    When Democrats agree on everything, it’s because they’re apparently crooks.

    Welcome to the right wing echo chamber.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/02/2014 - 02:59 pm.

    Promised land

    If one wants to claim the biblical land of ancient Israel, that land area would be about 6000 square miles

    The pre-1967 border contained about 8000 square miles

    The current area is about 12,900 square miles

    Seems like there needs to be some shrinkage to be entirely within the “promised land”.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/03/2014 - 09:36 am.

      There’s a lot of Bible

      The link that you provide appears to be an estimate from the time of Abraham.
      On the other hand, if you look for an estimate of the area of the empire of David and Solomon, you get a figure of about 13,000 square miles; about that of the current State of Israel. That’s the territory that the more nationalist Israeli’s view as their G_d given property.

  7. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/02/2014 - 08:07 pm.

    How nice

    it would be if they were just spouting April Fools jokes. But they really believe that nonsense.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/03/2014 - 09:14 am.

      Do they?

      In order to “believe” something, one has to consider it and think about it. I see no evidence that any Republican candidate has done that. Their recitations of standard talking points are too uniform for me to think that they are doing anything beyond reciting a string of phonemes. It’s a ritual they have to go through in order to qualify as candidates. “Belief” doesn’t enter in to the process.

  8. Submitted by David Broden on 04/02/2014 - 08:34 pm.

    Atttack vs. Offering Solutions and Ideas– A Voter Preference

    I am a very moderate Republican who continues to look for a candidate who offers a positive message and approach to important issues not just attack comments. All of the GOP candidates for Senate have failed Campaign 101- and I have taught campaign mgmt. and managed campaigns. Where are the ideas? Where are some policy statements? Attacking is easy— forming a solid informed and reasoned view that demonstrates a capability to be in a governing role takes thought and understanding. There ere many moderate GOP voters– keep in mind that MN is really an independent state– and if you look at which GOP senate candidate won or governor won in the past 40+ years it was those who had a positive message that connected to voters. At this point a write in is more likely to get more votes than any of the GOP attack squad. Lets find a positive MN style candidate and that person will be a winner.
    Dave Broden

  9. Submitted by Chuck Johnson on 04/02/2014 - 10:15 pm.

    Since No Daylight Permitted Between USA, Israel…

    …apparently every one of these so called ‘small government’ Republicans is implicitly advocating that the USA conduct the same war with Iran that the Israeli government continues to demand. Remember, the new Republican money man, Sheldon Adelson, has called for nuking Iran. But that doesn’t stop half the Republican presidential candidates from running out to Las Vegas to suck up to him.

    Perhaps these nutcase Republican Senate candidates can put their bought and paid for goyishe kopfs together and provide the voters of Minnesota an accurate estimate as to both the monetary, as well as the human costs of this war being peddled to the USA. I’m guessing that we are talking at least $2.5 trillion dollars ($2,500,000,000,000) and 25,000 dead. And those figures don’t include the additional costs of WWIII when the Chinese or Russians decide they have had enough of the USA’s arrogance. Perhaps the Russians seize upon our moment of overextension to grab Poland, Germany and the Baltic states back into their fold.

    Is this type of reckless stupidity and money spending really what passes for Conservatism these days? Count me out as the costs of this no daylight policy will absolutely finish off the USA. Also, if the voters in Minnesota get one whiff of the reckless advocacy of this war with Iran, none of these candidates have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected. This no daylight policy is strictly top down from Beltway & Manhattan. Shame on both political parties for not offering the public a non-interventionist peace candidate as Franken also toes the AIPAC line.

  10. Submitted by Steve Roth on 04/02/2014 - 10:30 pm.

    This was really fun to read…

    …I really couldn’t stop laughing at parts of this particularly McFadden’s trouble with biology and the GOP-approved talking points about abortion. Pro-life conceptions?

    The high-comedy aside – along with the endless contradictions in their talking points, what was the general reaction of the audience? I half expected to read that any number of candidates’ opinions were “met with a collective groan” from the audience.

    I wish I was there.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 04/03/2014 - 03:31 pm.


      clearly isn’t ready for prime time. If he’s getting angry in controlled situations like this, he’s toast on the campaign trail. Guys like McFadden, that have been insulated within an executive corporate bubble their entire career, aren’t used to having to answer difficult question regarding policy from people they consider beneath them.

  11. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 04/03/2014 - 09:35 am.

    The political theater

    Let’s face it, politics these days has a generous dose of political theater. Because we have photos and videos and audio recordings readily available, the costumes, the dialog, and the presentation are really important.

    In the photo, Ms. Ortmann looks like she’s on her way to the Easter parade. Probably not a winning costume for this political theater presentation. The men’s outfits are remarkably drab and boring – probably not winners either.

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