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Why it’s so easy for Minnesota Republicans to quit Trump

Donald Trump looking down during Sunday's presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

After the release of shocking video of Trump making vulgar remarks about women in 2005, numerous Republicans in Minnesota announced they were no longer supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency.

Trump lost the support of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Erik Paulsen, Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, and other Republican legislators and elected officials. For many, it was the end of a short-term relationship between themselves and the Republican nominee for president.

Republicans in Minnesota have never been very fond of Trump’s candidacy. On Super Tuesday, Marco Rubio won the state, while Trump finished in third place, his worst showing of the day. And during his entire time as a candidate, Trump has only made one brief visit to Minnesota. No rally, just a fundraiser.

While it is unusual to see elected officials disavow their party’s nominee for president, the reality of Trump’s superficial relationship with Minnesota Republicans make it very easy to them to jump from his sinking campaign.

This is a state party, remember, that “forgot” a key step to insuring Trump’s name would appear on the ballot in Minnesota, triggering a lawsuit by the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in September. (The Minnesota Supreme Court decided Trump’s name would appear on the ballot, but it may not matter that much: after Trump’s lewd comments about women, many Republicans won’t be voting for him in November.)

The decision for Minnesota Republicans to dump Trump brings to mind Tip O’Neill’s famous maxim: all politics is local. The GOPers’ move was largely fueled by their own elections and political careers.

Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen, for example, is battling against state Sen. Terri Bonoff for re-election in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District. Even before Bonoff announced her campaign against Paulsen, Democrats attempted to connect Paulsen with Trump, and no Republican has been hit with more attacks trying to saddle Trump to them than Paulsen.

Polling shows that Hillary Clinton is performing strongly in suburban districts, and she will likely defeat Trump in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District by a comfortable margin. Paulsen was one of the first Minnesota Republicans to denounce Trump after the most recent incident came to light, announcing he would not be voting for Trump in November. 

For a candidate like Paulsen, who has been getting hammered on a daily basis about Trump’s outlandish comments and questionable policy positions, it was smart — and necessary — for him to cut any connection to Trump. He doesn’t need Trump’s support to win on Election day; in fact, it’s Trump who would benefit from Paulsen’s support.

The only political calculation for Paulsen is whether Republican activists in his district would become frustrated that he is no longer supporting the Republican nominee for president. But Trump’s lack of any organized support in Minnesota — coupled with the increasing number of other established Republican office-holders cutting ties to Trump — makes this scenario unlikely.

Then there’s Kurt Daudt. He’s near the end of his first term as Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. And like most politicians, he wants a second term in office. 

And while Daudt’s re-election to the Minnesota House of Representatives is almost a guarantee, whether Republicans will retain control of the Minnesota House is another question.  

In his legislative district, Daudt could easily win re-election even if he was continuing to support Trump’s candidacy. Yet Daudt’s focus is not only winning another term in office for himself, but ensuring he’s joined by at least 67 other Republicans so that he can remain speaker.

As a result, Daudt needs to think about what is the best decision for GOP House candidates in their individual elections. And many of those elections are being fought in the suburbs, the same areas where public polling shows Clinton defeating Trump. 

Making this all the easier for Minnesota GOPers is the Trump campaign itself. In the 20 years I’ve been engaging in politics in Minnesota, I’ve never seen a more distant and disengaged Republican campaign for president in this state.

And as we enter the final weeks of the effort, Trump’s lack of campaign organization and infrastructure in Minnesota is just going to make it easier for Republicans to distance themselves from him.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 10/10/2016 - 12:15 pm.

    Short term relationships

    Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Evangelical Republicans, who are very serious about their religious beliefs and Donald Trump, unrepentant super-sinner? Business Republicans, known for their careful choices, and Donald Trump recklessness personified? The pursuit of riches and power by the Trump method are really antithetical to the core beliefs of Republican who support him, but pursuit of the Golden Calf was just too tempting.

    God may be forgiving to those who ignored their values in focusing on what they had to gain supporting Trump, but should voters? Supporting Trump even for a day is a black mark. Coming up to 250 years of continuing democracy, Americans who would risk flushing our country’s proud heritage down the drain to support a would-be tyrant really need to look themselves in the mirror.

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 10/10/2016 - 12:31 pm.

    Republicans, you can’t quit Trump. YOU-OWN-TRUMP

    It is way to late to quit Trump. YOU-OWN-TRUMP! You can’t behave like he never happened. Your voters are fed up with your politics that is why YOU-OWN-TRUMP!. The minute you said you endorse Trump you owned him, warts and all. This is just Like George W. Bush who ran the country into the ditch. You don’t want to talk about him but in the voters eyes YOU-OWN-BUSH TOO! It is time to change the Republican Party and make it viable again. Denial does not fix a party. Only real changes will fix your party. The country needs you, but not in your current form.

  3. Submitted by Julie Barton on 10/10/2016 - 02:10 pm.

    Trump Campaign weak in MN?

    Do you think the Trump campaign/support from the national level is weak in MN for the same reason Mrs Clinton decided not to visit here: the state of Minnesota is going Democrat so why waste the time/effort that could be spent in swing areas? (this is my restatement of what I’ve seen, and not the actual words used by any party, that I am aware of).

    Not going to lie, I feel just slightly taken for granted by both sides.

  4. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 10/10/2016 - 02:46 pm.

    Clinton does see Minnesota!

    Minnesota Democrats preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton in the primary/caucus process, so Hillary Clinton’s focus has been on getting those Bernie people back in the fold for her election: She has sent . . . Bernie Sanders! And her daughter, Chelsea, closer in age to the millennials who supported Bernie Sanders from the left. Maybe Republicans haven’t been paying attention. But the Clinton campaign, which is savvy about how and where to focus, is not ignoring a solid “blue” state, which (however) some pollsters have painted purple. Although that was before the Trump mess of last week and this weekend.

    There is a gigantic difference in the size, sophistication, and focus of the Clinton and Trump campaign organizations. Hillary is far too politically smart to let any state slip away.

  5. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 10/10/2016 - 04:44 pm.


    If I were a GOP politician and I am not, I would rather back Trump for the Presidency than go against what the majority of GOP voters wanted. All you have to do is look at the GOP a few years back in MN when they introduced a couple of amendments to the State Constitution against the will of the people. Believe me any GOP politician or any politician for that matter who goes against the will of the people in this day and age will find themselves looking for a new job. People have come to realize that politicians are not our leaders, they are our employees and then can be fired and will be. I think Ryan in Wisconsin may well find this out. The internet has finally brought a revolution capability to the voters of both parties.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/11/2016 - 09:05 am.

    The problem is…

    Pawlenty and his mates are just NOW realizing how bad Trump is? They needed THIS tape to bring them to Jesus? The party is irretrievably bankrupt on a moral and intellectual level. Republicans spend decades cultivating the ignorant, anti-intellectual, narrowly focused, selfish, magical thinking voters that made Trump the nominee and now they’re stuck with it. The truth is if Trump were winning they’d stick with him no matter what revelations emerged.

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