While Ohio may have a reputation as a swing state, this week Cleveland is solidly Republican territory. But that didn’t stop Sen. Al Franken from making an appearance on Thursday morning, blocks away from the arena where, later today, thousands of people will cheer as Donald Trump accepts official nomination of the Republican Party for president.
Franken joined New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Party chair, behind enemy lines for a counter-programming series orchestrated by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Standing behind a podium with an image of Trump and the words “Better Than This,” Franken deadpanned a few jokes but largely stuck to a sober, serious denouncement of Trump and what has transpired this week at the Republican National Convention.
“One thing I will say about [Gov. Mike] Pence’s speech was, it was refreshing to see someone say something good about Trump who wasn’t actually related to him, or due to inherit a lot of his money,” Franken said, opening his remarks to some laughs.
“But this has been ugly,” he continued, citing repeated crowd chants of “Lock her up!” and Gov. Chris Christie’s declarations that Clinton is “guilty, guilty, guilty.”
“That’s very banana republic,” Franken said. “This is the kind of negativity and ugliness that you’ve come to expect from Donald Trump. … This is someone who lies to the American people constantly, so often that I think those of you in the press fail to report them because, it’s just, ‘oh, so he lied again.’ ”
Franken referenced a Tuesday night speech from former candidate Ben Carson, in which he argued that Saul Alinsky, whom he called Clinton’s role model, acknowledges Lucifer.
“We saw a former candidate compare Hillary to, or say she is in the thrall of Lucifer,” Franken said. “And we’re working on disproving it, and we’ll get back to you on that later.”
“You know,” Franken said, “I used to write books about, it was almost quaint, about right-wing guys lying.”
Speaking to MinnPost after the event, Franken — who founded his political career on right-wing-debunking books like “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” — reflected on the time he covered the 1992 GOP convention as a correspondent for Comedy Central.
In Houston that year, Pat Buchanan, a hard-line conservative who challenged President George H.W. Bush for the nomination, delivered an infamous speech in which he described the election as a “religious war” for the “soul of America” and harshly criticized gay and lesbian people, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party in general.
“I was with Ben Stein and commenting on it, and I said, ‘This is going to backfire, isn’t it?’ ” Franken said. “He said, ‘This is just red meat for the crowd there.’ But I think everyone agreed that it did backfire, because it was so ugly.”
“I think this is worse,” Franken said, saying that Buchanan’s speech was just one moment of far-out rhetoric, while the 2016 GOP gathering has been “teeming with it.”
He said that it took several weeks for Buchanan’s address — well-received at the time — to go sour. “I had that take instantly, and it took several weeks, now that is considered what happened, that Buchanan put off a lot of the American people, and I think that’s what’s happening this week.”
To Franken, Trump is squarely responsible for the tone of this GOP convention. In 1992, he said, Buchanan’s remarks weren’t reflective of Bush.
“This is a reflection of Trump,” Franken said. “This is the bully boy.”