At convention, shadow of ‘the Body’ looms for Minnesota Republicans

REUTERS
Trump and Ventura share a good deal.

Donald Trump has shocked many Americans this election cycle with his unorthodox campaign style and penchant for controversial rhetoric and impossibly tough talk.

To some Minnesotans, however, the Trump phenomenon looks all too familiar. It looks a lot, in fact, like Jesse “the Body” Ventura.

As the reality of nominating Donald Trump as the official GOP candidate for president began to sink in for Minnesota delegates to the Republican National Convention, it prompted talk of Ventura, the pro wrestler and actor who pulled off one of the most stunning victories in Minnesota political history when he won the governor’s seat in 1998 over two brand names in state politics.

Trump and Ventura share a good deal: a zeal for the spotlight, a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the press, a gift for stirring up controversy, and a skill at capitalizing on populist politics.

At the RNC, a few Minnesota delegates brought up the similarities between the two men.

The problem with — and appeal of — outsiders

Two themes were prominent in the Ventura talk. To some, Ventura’s tenure as governor proves that blustery outsiders who promise to shake up the status quo can’t be trusted to make good on their lofty promises. Ventura came in pledging to change business as usual, and had big ideas like instituting a unicameral legislature. But he suffered low approval ratings near the end of his first term, and decided not to seek a second one.

Andy Aplikowski, a delegate for Sen. Ted Cruz and a critic of Trump, told MinnPost on Monday that Trump brought back bad memories of Ventura, calling the governor “a guy who said a lot of things that people like to hear, and did none of them.”

The other idea that Minnesotans considered is the power and appeal of unconventional populists like Ventura and Trump — and that Trump’s opponents underestimate him at their peril.

When asked if he believed Trump could win Minnesota, Steve Wenzel, a GOP delegate who served for 29 years in the Minnesota Legislature as a DFLer, immediately invoked Ventura.

“I was the last one in Minnesota to have seen Jesse Ventura coming,” he said. “Somehow, I couldn’t believe when it happened, and I didn’t see it coming at all. I mean, I was totally blind-sighted with what was happening.”

“Minnesotans have a history — there’s a streak of independence in Minnesota, going back 100 years,” Wenzel said, citing the election of Republican-turned-Democrat governor John Lind in 1898 and the success of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party in Minnesota in 1912.

Rep. Tom Emmer explained that Ventura was a “phenomenon.”

“We had three people running for governor several years ago, a well-known Republican, a well-known Democrat, and an independent. The independent wasn’t even polling at 20 percent before the election in November, yet the independent wins,” he said.

“And we find out, all these people who said they weren’t going to vote for that guy because he’s undisciplined, there’s going to be problems with the campaign, he can’t win — these same people didn’t admit to voting for him after, yet he got elected.”

To Emmer, the parallel to Trump is clear: polling, media coverage — all the traditional ways to measure a candidate’s success — cannot truly account for the popularity of a controversial, unorthodox candidate, who may be scrutinized and ridiculed in public but admired privately.

“It’s the beauty of the secret ballot,” Emmer said.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/20/2016 - 04:12 pm.

    I actually think the Trump-Ventura comparison is unflattering to Ventura, whose first two years in office were reasonably successful – especially considering he had no IP legislative caucus to work with. Yes, he had many flaws and some very questionable policy ideas, but Ventura was serious about making sure that government worked. He appointed good people to head departments and his judicial appointments were similarly solid. I’m not sure that we’ve seen that same level of seriousness about the mechanics of government from Trump.

  2. Submitted by charles thompson on 07/20/2016 - 04:37 pm.

    showbiz

    Despite Jesses’ career in showbiz, which taught him about self promotion, I would think his time as a Seal taught him the necessity of teamwork. Trump has plenty of experience in self promotion, but is a little weak on life or death teamwork.

  3. Submitted by chuck holtman on 07/20/2016 - 05:46 pm.

    Agree with Sean. Not at all analogous.

    Ventura ran for office because he had a critique of governance as it was and an intent to alter it. Voters were attracted to him because of a consistent rhetoric that the established powers were serving themselves and not the general public, and an at least superficially cogent libertarian bent. If he didn’t have a coherent set of policies, he had a coherent set of principles. As Sean notes, his appointments actually were quite strong and his agenda as it formed was to some extent credible. Ultimately he failed because, as soon was revealed, he did not have the experience, relationships, temperament or patience to be an effective Governor.

    On the other hand, those who support Trump couldn’t articulate a coherent position on an aspect of governance if they tried. Their support of Trump isn’t about governance, it’s about their Id, pumped full of existential fear and hate over the decades beginning with the Southern Strategy. Their entire political agenda is to see suffering inflicted on others, as the Republican establishment promised them year after year but never delivered on, at least not nearly enough. Nor does Trump have the slightest concept of governance, and it doesn’t occur to him that he should. He saw a fattened mark to feed his megalomania and has been quite happy to deliver a platform of sadism and nihilism in the service of his con, without the slightest concern as to the dark trajectory that he is abetting.

    Ventura was about governance. Trump is about co-dependent pathology.

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