Take it from Arne’s former communications chief: Let Trump be Trump

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
The latest iteration of leadership in the Donald Trump campaign is trying to manage him with — mixed results.

“He has been a confrontational and aggressive figure, a take-no-prisoners warrior for what he believes in. Along the way he has … infuriated and offended friends and foes alike.”

This is not a description of Donald Trump. This is from a profile of my former boss, Gov. Arne Carlson, written by Dane Smith in the Star Tribune in January 1999, Arne’s last year in office.

Combativeness is a quality than can make a leader but create a nightmare for a political campaign. The latest iteration of leadership in the Trump campaign is trying to manage him — with mixed results. But even if they succeed, they run the risk that their renegade candidate will become the politician he has raged against.

I sympathize. Harnessing Carlson’s particular brand of energy was one of my tasks as I helped manage his 1994 campaign for re-election.

Although Carlson was hugely popular, the Republican Party did not endorse him for re-election. On the road to the primary, Arne wanted to charge and take charge. He wanted to lash out at the Republicans who endorsed Allen Quist. He wanted to take down the DFL, which promised him an ugly fight in the general election.

Every once in a while, I stood in the way of those outbursts. My goal was not to thwart Carlson’s instincts. He was right — most of the time. But we, including Arne, didn’t want a flash of temper or a misspoken word to undercut the record he was campaigning on. Still, a campaign is a calendar of the unanticipated and unexpected.

For example, one steamy September afternoon, Arne was campaigning in Hutchinson, talking to a group of farmers. One of them complained that the state was still spending too much money and challenged Carlson on his decision to fund the state film board.

With the Twin Cities media in attendance, Arne responded with a heated lecture on budget priorities. I intervened, reminding him how the state’s film industry led to his dinner that year with actress Ann-Margret who was filming in Minnesota.

Arne recovered with a quip about his sex appeal. The farmers chortled. The tension passed. In fact, Arne bonded with all the other Ann-Margret fans in the room.

There was no silver lining to Carlson’s interview with the American Jewish World in which he compared Quist to Hitler. He said Quist represented a “narrow sliver” of Minnesota Republicans but “a narrow sliver has the ability to take over an entire system.” He added, “That clearly is how Hitler started out.”

Former Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Former Gov. Arne Carlson

I wasn’t with him during that interview and even if I were, there was no putting the words back in his mouth. Quist was furious. Even worse, the state Republican Party, with which we were approaching rapprochement, was outraged. Carlson apologized in a written statement.

There were other tests. The occasional protests when Carlson campaigned on the Iron Range. The constant reminding that Arne had to suffer in silence when his ex-wife, Barbara, taunted him with tales of their sex life on her radio show.

But I knew, ultimately, Carlson would prevail. He had a sense of humor. He had great discipline. Remember, this is man who in high school overcame a serious speech impediment by excelling in debate and theater.

Carlson also had affection and respect for his campaign team.  He listened to us and we to him because he really wanted to serve the people of Minnesota.

So I can commiserate, up to a point, with Trump campaign. But you can’t control a candidate into being something he is not. We let Arne be Arne and he was one of the state’s best governors.

So let Trump be Trump. The voters will decide the rest.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/29/2016 - 10:38 am.


    You could let Arne be Arne because he was a fundamentally honorable and reasonable guy, who, btw, I believe is supporting Clinton.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/29/2016 - 10:56 am.

    I wasn’t here

    …at the time, so I don’t share Ms. Brucato’s affection for former Governor Carlson, who may well have been just great. However, I’m skeptical of the claim that he was “disciplined.” Overall, that may have been the case, but someone who blurts out a comparison of a fellow-Republican to Hitler during a primary campaign doesn’t meet my own criteria for “disciplined.”

    And that’s part of my take on Mr. Trump. “Disciplined” is not a word that comes to mind when I come across his name in print or on TV. Other, less complimentary terms are what come to mind more easily, and it’s because of that that I end up agreeing with at least the headline to this article. Let Mr. Trump be who he is. Doing so will expose to the public his lack of education, his smorgasbord of deeply-held prejudices, the incoherence of what he’s trying to pass off as “policy” proposals, and a degree of blatant, in-your-face misogyny we’ve not seen in a presidential candidate in quite some time. By all means, let’s have the full range of his demagoguery on public display for all to see and hear. If he’s elected anyway, well, we’ll get the government we deserve…

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/29/2016 - 11:13 am.

    Republican Reality

    Cyndy, you correctly beg today’s truism: Trump Will Be Trump.

    Arne would likely change “narrow sliver” to “empty quiver” for 2016.

    As for Ann-Margret, well, she long ago left the state, leaving us with many “grumpy old men.”

    (Besides, I’ve always admired the unsung virtues of Burgess Meredith.)

  4. Submitted by David Broden on 08/29/2016 - 12:42 pm.

    Candidates Messages–Expression and Capability

    Having work as a key campaign management team member for races across Minnesota Cindy makes some valid points– many candidates have a tendency to speak before thinking and often do not pay attention to the citizen view or the thoughts or views of the groups they are speaking to or interacting with. Most candidates have established an understanding of government and the office they are seeking but there are also many who are speaking without any real knowledge of the office or the issues- often these are on the ideology path and not really interested in what is important. The Best candidates are those who understand that if elected they represent all citizens and thus they must place goals for GOOD GOVERNMENT First and Ahead of Good Politics– are too many today doing the reverse and segments of the public are accepting this mode. Those who can address an understanding and have a grasp of the issues including approaches for how to govern and what legislation priorites should be addressed will most often emerge in the campaign . Today the traditional media is overcome by social media and special interest media- this changes the metric of how candidates communicate to voters-even with this media influence shift we all need to look for the candidates who can serve the role with sensitivity and understanding of all of the citizens of the state, and nation. Balance your sources, listen to the discussion, and select one who understands and has a vision for positive leadership for all citizens.

    Dave Broden

  5. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/29/2016 - 02:43 pm.

    Arne is simply one of those

    Old time reasonable Republicans who can not be nominated anymore but doesn’t have to accept the boorish Republicans nominated now.

  6. Submitted by David Broden on 08/29/2016 - 05:14 pm.

    Why Arne was a Winner!!

    Arne expressed himself with a good quantity of humor and expression but along with that he always had a solid understanding of people- and the state of MN quality of life and capability as a focus. He believed in the value of GOOD Government serving the people effecitively. And he did that without complaining or whining- he just got it done and acted as a leaders should. Focus on GOOD GOVERNMENT was the winner for all the citizens– as we move to November a bit of serious thought of how responsible leaders benefit all of us is important. I am proud to continue to form my political opinions and views as one of many among the citizens of MN who call themselves – progressive moderate Minnesota Repubicans- we seek to build a better stronger MN for all of MN citizens just as Arne did and so did other before Arne and many who followed. It is perhaps time to reflect a bit on the benefits of moderates on both sides of the Mn political spectrum as we measure the choices for this year citizen participation in the democratic process call voting. Think Good Government above politics and then look back to how we have had that history in MN,

    Dave Broden

  7. Submitted by Jim Roth on 08/29/2016 - 05:27 pm.

    Trump vs. Arne

    Trump is no Arne Carlson.

  8. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/29/2016 - 06:51 pm.

    This calls for someone to say (and paraphrase):

    Donald, I served with Arne Carlson. I knew Arne Carlson. Arne Carlson was a friend of mine. Donald, you’re no Arne Carlson.

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