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How political activists who don’t want to vote for Trump or Clinton look at the presidential race

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Hillary Clinton speaking at a Women for Hillary campaign event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

As a lifelong fan of the Vikings, I know what it’s like to watch your team come up short.

Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Steve Timmer can empathize. As early supporters of presidential candidates not named Trump or Clinton, Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner, and Timmer, a retired lawyer from Edina, find themselves watching the presidential campaign much the way I spend Super Bowl Sunday — rooting for somebody else’s team.

Like the other committed supporters of presidential candidates who failed to win the nomination, Johnson and Timmer are the kind of people who can nevertheless play a critical role in ensuring the nominee of their party wins in November. They toil in the political trenches for their candidates and help message against the opposing party’s.

So while much of that messaging in the final weeks of the campaign will be targeted toward winning over independent voters, the Clinton and Trump campaigns would be wise not to ignore people like Johnson and Timmer. 

Johnson served as the state chair of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, giving Rubio the only statewide win during his battle for Republican nomination. After Rubio ended his campaign, Johnson threw his support to Ted Cruz. After Cruz ended his campaign, Johnson found himself with a choice.

“In my mind, I have to chose one of two people, because I want my vote to matter, and I don’t think it does if you vote for a third-party [candidate] this year,” said Johnson.

Johnson admits Trump “was not his first, second, or third choice.” And yet, the GOP nominee is his “number one in a choice of two” current presidential candidates.

And while he has concerns with Trump’s personality and character, Johnson believes change is desperately needed in Washington, and that Trump can be a more credible agent for change than Clinton. “Trump will disrupt the status quo,” said Johnson. “I think a lot of people are looking for sweeping change in how government operates; only Trump will bring that.” 

Trump’s performance in the first debate against Clinton disappointed Johnson, who felt the nominee was too easily baited into talking about the issues Clinton wanted to discuss.

Johnson, who ran for governor in 2014 and could be a candidate for statewide office again, has taken on the unofficial role of keeping Republicans in Minnesota focused on the larger goal: defeating Clinton, the gist of which was summed in an op-ed he wrote for the Star Tribune last month. While Trump can “be offensive and obnoxious,” he wrote, “the alternative is far worse.”

Over in the Democratic Party, Timmer hasn’t been as easily moved. A passionate supporter of Bernie Sanders, he has yet to be won over by Hillary Clinton.

When I asked Timmer — who blogs at and is one of the hosts of a weekly gathering of Minnesota progressives called Drinking Liberally — if he was voting for Clinton this November, he told me it “was a very interesting question.”

“I can’t figure out what I’m going to do,” said Timmer. “Trump is an unacceptable choice to me and I’m afraid Hillary is nearly so.” 

Timmer then said, “but I may, probably, perhaps, be persuaded in the end to vote for Clinton.”

Sanders was attractive to Timmer because of the candidate’s emphasis on income inequality, though there were other policy initiatives supported by Sanders that also drew Timmer in. “He is the non-establishment candidate, and we need a non-establishment candidate,” he said. 

Both Johnson and Timmer watched portions of the first debate between Clinton and Trump, thought neither could make it through the whole thing. 

Timmer acknowledged that Trump made some good points in the debate about trade issues, but said he “didn’t make them in the most artful way.”

He also thinks Sanders might have been treated differently than Clinton by Trump in a one-on-one debate. “I suspect that if Bernie was on the stage, he would not have been treated so dismissively by Donald Trump,” he said. “Clearly there was some misogyny going on, and that was regrettable, but [Clinton] stood up to it very well I thought.”

But Timmer also believes his preferred candidate would have done well in such a forum. “I still think that Bernie would have made a better case on some things than Clinton did,” he said.

What will it take for Clinton to win the support of a thoughtful Democrat like Timmer before the Election? “I think that she has to persuade me that she is genuinely progressive on economic issues,” he said.  

Clinton and Trump, said Timmer, are both “champions of economic status quo,” adding  “and that is disturbing to someone who is interested in change.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/06/2016 - 12:09 pm.

    Change for the sake of change?

    It bothers me that people who want “change” in establishment political processes are not thinking through the kind of “change” the country would or could get with Trump in the White House. He would disrupt the ways things are done, but, Boy! we have to bear in mind the destruction he could wreak.

    Trump is prone to irritable rants. His campaign staff–no matter who is there of a rapidly-changing group–cannot control what he says, or keep him either on script or on topic. He wanders. He has a famously short attention span. He is dismissive of detail in either business, his personal taxes, or national policy.

    Trump speaks off the cuff and pays no attention to platform positions or even what he said ten minutes ago, and frequently tries to deny saying something he said yesterday or a couple of hours ago. No one from the GOP can control what he says.

    His family can’t control him, either (Mrs. Trump would like him to stop Tweeting).

    Imagine, if he were in the White House, where no one in the world could ever successfully advise him or control how he talks about our allies or our enemies (“Hey, Vlad Putin! Why don’t you hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign!”). Or even about women, much less other groups of citizens.

    For any political activist to pretend that there not a sane major party alternative to Trump in the presidential race is simply playing coy, for effect (and media attention, like any “undecideds” at this point).

  2. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 10/06/2016 - 12:19 pm.

    A thought for Mr. Timmer

    Even if both major candidates are “champions of economic status quo,” presumably each of them still supports *some* marginal change from the status quo. Maybe you see the proportional mix in both cases as similar — for example, both 95% status quo, 5% change. But the question I’d ask is this: for the change component (the 5%, in my example), which one is supporting change in the direction you prefer?

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/06/2016 - 07:11 pm.

    Making America great-again!

    The biggest thing dividing the two candidates for the highest office in our Nation is whether our nation is great or not and which candidate can make America great-again.Mr. Trump’s message so far has been that he wishes to make America great again which to me translates into inferring that his supporters agree with him in thinking American is no longer great, as it once was.

    This is not only what divides Mr. Trump from Mrs. Clinton but also from his Republican opponents during the primary. I don’t recall any other Republican candidate in the primaries even suggesting that America was no longer great. In other words, in terms of what mattered most to make Mr. Trump the standard bearer for the Republican Party, arguably the strongest American political party in terms of its grass roots support–America’s greatness or lack of greatness–Mrs. Clinton is less divided from the other Republican candidates than they all are from Mr. Trump. Never mind which party has held the balance of power in this country for the past 35 years to make America what is today no longer what it once was.

    Which leads me to wonder: as well done as I think this article is, how much worse can Mrs. Clinton be than any of the other candidates who were supported by Mr. Johnson and other non-Trump supporting Republicans? It would seem logical that this is the first question one should ask oneself: do you agree with Mr. Trump that America is not great anymore? The second question is then: if it’s that important to you, is Mr. Trump really the best candidate to make America great-again?

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/07/2016 - 05:51 am.

    So why does Mr. Johnson believe Trump can bring sweeping change in government? Has he demonstrated an ability to do that in the past? Is he known as the Steve Jobs of real estate? Of vodka brand management?

    And of course, change happens no matter who gets elected to office. Why does Mr. Johnson believe that Mr. Trump, who has only a tenuous grasp on reality, witness is long term belief that the president was not born in the United States, believe that any changes Mr. Trump will make will be positive?

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/07/2016 - 08:48 am.


    I do think the article does engage in a very forced equivalence. While she does have her critics, and I am one. her support within the Democratic Party is, for all intents and purposes, unanimous. In this case, to find the equivalence he was seeking, Mr. Brodkorb and to search an high and low to find perhaps the most obscure Democrat imaginable. When looking for a Republican for his article, he faced the opposite challenge, finding a Republican office holder who was actually willing to speak in support of Donald Trump.

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