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Yeah, the DFL’s lawsuit to bar Trump from the ballot is kind of dumb. Here’s why they’re doing it

The public relations battle over the issue offers some sense of just how hard it is to be the head of a political party in Minnesota. 

The DFL has gone to the Minnesota Supreme Court to get the name of Donald Trump, above, and his running mate, Mike Pence, removed from the ballot.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Minnesota isn’t a swing state in the presidential election, but it has been thrust into the presidential campaign thanks to the DFL’s decision to file a legal challenge over the process used by the Republican Party of Minnesota in placing Donald Trump’s name on the ballot.

The DFL has gone to the Minnesota Supreme Court to get the name of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, removed from the ballot, which would guarantee their nominee, Hillary Clinton, would continue the Democrats’ 44-year presidential winning streak in Minnesota. And while the parties’ lawyers are arguing it out before the court, the two parties chairs are waging a parallel public relations battle that offers some sense of how hard it is to be the head of a political party.

For one thing, among the basic requirements for the job is to launch partisan hand-grenades at your opponent without mercy. That’s because the party chairs don’t answer to voters. They’re elected by an elite group of activists — people who enjoy the back-and-forth political bickering that the average voter detests. 

As a party chair, it’s also your responsibility to police the activities of your rival and — if necessary — file legal challenges to determine if they have followed the law. Politics ain’t a tickle competition.

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In this case, whatever the legal merits of the suit, the DFL finds itself in a tough position. They really had no choice but to challenge Trump’s placement on the ballot in Minnesota. It’s well within the bounds of partisan politics, and if the roles were reversed, I have no doubt Republicans would have filed lawsuit to challenge the placement of Clinton on the ballot.

In a statement announcing their legal challenge to Trump being placed on the ballot, Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said that political parties need “to follow the rules.” Everyone should follow the rules — especially political parties and politicians. Who could disagree with that?

Not even Republicans, it turns out. Though the Minnesota GOP has only itself to blame for the controversy, their public response to the lawsuit has been smart. Instead of focusing on the legal arguments for keeping Trump on the ballot, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey has focused on a much more basic virtue — fairness — claiming the DFL is attempting to “rig the election” by going to court to remove Trump from the ballot. He has labeled the legal maneuver a “blatant and frivolous attempt to disenfranchise so many Minnesota voters,” added that he believes the move will “backfire” on Democrats. 

By casting the DFL’s move as an attempt to “disenfranchise” voters, the Republicans have wisely appealed to Minnesota’s rich history of civic engagement and high voter turnout. Instead of defending their own incompetence, they’re now defending the right of voters to cast their ballot this November. 

Whichever way it goes, the legal drama isn’t expected to last much longer, even if the verbal sparring between Democrats and Republicans will. In their filing, lawyers representing Secretary of State Steve Simon told the court that they would like a decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court by Monday. According to Simon’s office, at least one million ballots had already been printed and time would be needed to reprint ballots.