It was less of a roast than a serving of humble pie Monday night, when guests gathered to honor Pat Shortridge, outgoing chair of the Minnesota Republican Party.
There was plenty of agreement, too, with the harsh critique and recommendations for the party’s future contained in the report issued Monday by the Republican National Committee.
In his remarks, Shortridge echoed the report’s main theme.
“We’ve got to start bringing our message where people live,” he said. “It’s not what we’re against, it’s what we’re for — welcoming people that don’t think they’d ever be Republicans. Any movement that is not welcoming is losing.”
In the “Growth and Opportunity Project” [PDF], the RNC said its aim was to “provide an honest review of the 2012 election cycle.”
The 45 recommendations focused more on tactical changes, rather than policy ones — for example, fundraising, campaign mechanics and debates.
“What they are trying to do, by emphasizing tactics, is to head off as much criticism as possible,” said St. Paul attorney John Gilmore, organizer of the tribute event. “What appalled the activists is that they see their counterparts getting data, growing voters, growing outside support organizations.”
But that’s OK, said Bill Walsh, former legislative director at the Minnesota House.
“The party’s job is nuts-and-bolts, and that’s good for us. We’re not going to get into the issues. Let the people define the issues,” he said.
Shortridge’s handling of the nuts and bolts was duly noted and praised by a group of activists and elected officials, including Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County commissioner and RNC committeeman, and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
“Our party was very close to collapse,” said Johnson. “He righted the ship.”
The weight of a job that Shortridge described as “a unique volunteer experience” was underscored with a rare form of tribute, an appearance by the opposition, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.
He gently ribbed the Republican crowd of 60 — “Senator Klobuchar wanted me to send her regards for helping her win.” He presented Shortridge with a Marco Rubio water bottle, the novelty item that spun off from Rubio’s awkward sip of bottled water during his State of the Union rebuttal.
Then, Martin tipped his hat to political operatives, such as Shortridge, who believe in the system.
“Pat stepped in knowing it was going to be a long year. Like me, he believes that parties represent the heart and soul of politics,” he said. “It’s not good to have one party weak and the other strong. We need to see a re-emergence of the Republican Party in this state.”
Shortridge followed with words that suggested that DFLers should enjoy their success while they have it.
“Our party has been a buffer for 23 years,” he said. “Now voters will get the full effect [of DFL dominance].”
And he ended with tart advice about the party’s infighting.: “We have to think of one fundamental thing. We have to get over our minority party mindset.”
Shortridge leaves his post April 6, when delegates elect a new party chair. It’s likely that his warning and the RNC dissection of the party’s problems will be part of his legacy.