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

From the beginning, the Trump candidacy and Minnesota Republicans made for an awkward pairing. And now it’s coming apart. 

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

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.

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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.

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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.