What will the MNGOP do?
Activists within the Republican Party of Minnesota seem noticeably divided over the future of its leadership. The recent entrance of former state Sen. Carrie Ruud and talk-show host Dave Thompson to the battle for state party chair can signal only one thing: growing factionalism that may prevent unity around leading candidate Tony Sutton.
But who can lead Minnesota Republicans to a new promised land?
The factions appear to be three distinct groups: libertarians (a la the Ron Paul movement), old-line social and fiscal conservatives, and the power center that has controlled the selection of candidates since the late ’90s.
The old-line group led a revolution several years ago, when it deposed Ron Ebensteiner in favor of the current chair, Ron Carey, who by most accounts hasn’t been effective or popular among the activists. That includes those who helped him get into office.
One key player not running for party office but influencing the race is Craig Westover. Craig is one of the more thoughtful conservative bloggers in Minnesota and an editorial page contributor for the Pioneer Press.
He wrote an article Wednesday titled “Whither the Minnesota Republican Party?” that appeared on the political blog True North. Without naming names, Westover accuses the current party leadership of being “command and control.” And he is wary that Sutton as chair wouldn’t change basic party operations.
He and longtime GOP activist Marianne Stebbins have created a plan they call “Grassroots for an Open Minnesota Republican Party.” The effort would try to move the Minnesota Republican Party from “platform conservatism” to “principled conservatism.”
Westover has recruited a couple of hundred folks to support his plan via Facebook. That group includes Sue Jeffers, who challenged Gov. Pawlenty for the GOP nomination in 2006, and Joe Repya, who ran for chair in 2007.
Their plan sounds good on paper. But platforms are the foundation of the modern political party and the tool that activists use to measure a candidate’s views in relation to the party. Westover’s plan is likely unrealistic even during these times when the GOP needs some new ideas.
Enter Thompson, a journeyman talk-show host and self-employed lawyer. He represents the pure and principled libertarian conservative that Westover and the Ron Paul crowd may find appealing. As a sparring partner of mine on Sunday morning television over the past few years, Thompson has come across as smart and competent. The challenge he faces, though, is a lack of practical political experience.
For the GOP, that could be a disaster. Think Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Think bad fundraising. Think a power base that may bypass the party and move its candidates straight to a primary.
Left-wingers already have reminded the Twitter-world of troublesome quotes from Thompson’s radio gig, such as “No one is trying to raise a family on minimum wage, and if they are, they have no business having a family.” That said, the buzz of the conservative-blog community is complimentary of Thompson, including Drew Emmer.
As for Ruud, there is consternation inside and outside the GOP over her legislative voting record, which included “yes” votes for stadiums and support for Gov. Pawlenty’s proposal for the “tobacco fee/tax.” No one is clear where her political support will come from when the GOP State Central Committee convenes June 13 to pick a new leader.
All of this confirms that there is an “anyone but Sutton” sentiment among many within the party. On the other hand, Sutton is the only proven leader within the field.