Why both Democrats and Republicans could be happy with Ellison as DNC chair

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
For Democrats, Rep. Keith Ellison’s willingness to be a partisan bomb-thrower is an important quality, and many expect he’d take the fight directly to President Trump.

In the wake of the dumpster fire that was the 2016 election for Democrats, the next chair of the Democratic National Committee will have to do more than work on the party platform or fund-raise. Democrats need a complete makeover, an overhaul of every component of the party’s infrastructure and messaging.

This responsibility may very well land on the shoulders of Rep. Keith Ellison, who in the past decade has become one of the most prominent voices inside the party.

That Ellison is even in this position is remarkable, given that he traded his legislative seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives just 10 years ago, and that his path from the state Capitol to the U.S. Capitol wasn’t easy. In 2006, remember, Ellison faced a heated battle for the DFL endorsement and primary, besting numerous candidates before he finally prevailed to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. 

His path to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee also isn’t going to be easy, and — perhaps not surprisingly — his candidacy has attracted both supporters and critics on both sides of the aisle.

Yet Ellison has also united both Democrats and Republicans, if for very different reasons.

Steve Timmer, who blogs at left.mn, is among many progressives who believe Democrats would be foolish to pass on giving Ellison the chance to lead the party. “If the Democrats fail to elect a progressive as the new DNC chair, they will be like the Restoration Bourbons,” said Timmer. “They will have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

For Democrats, Ellison’s willingness to be a partisan bomb-thrower is an important quality, and many expect he’d take the fight directly to President Trump. And with the possibility of Trump proposing some form of a Muslim registry, Ellison — as the first Muslim elected to Congress — would be in a strong position to fight back.

On Thanksgiving Day, for example, when many families were hoping to avoid discussing politics or the past election, Ellison sent out numerous tweets attacking Trump.

While some may be critical of Ellison’s tweet storm, or at least the timing of it, in the context of the political jousting between Democrats and Republicans it is completely within bounds, and it shows why he is probably perfectly suited for the job. He is someone who will fan the flames of partisan sniping to the benefit of Democrats across the country. 

At the same time, the prospect of Ellison becoming the leader of the Democratic Party has some Republicans giddy, as they see Ellison’s candidacy as a boon to their chances at building a permanent majority.

“As Democrats continue to struggle across rural America and lose their foothold in the suburbs, I’m thrilled their reaction is to run a Minneapolitan who is one of the most liberal members of Congress for DNC Chair,” said Republican strategist John Rouleau. “Ellison will be an excellent asset to Republicans as they work to expand their majorities across the nation.”

All of which means that if Ellison is elevated by Democrats as the face of resistance to President Trump, the partisan embers of 2016 will be mild compared to the fire that will burn in 2017.

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Josh Lease on 11/30/2016 - 10:50 am.


    Why not sack up and say that GOP insiders like Ellison as DNC Chair because they plan on playing him up as the scary black Muslim to all the Trump voters for the next four years? The Southern Strategy has just been spun again. They’re not going to be painting Rep. Ellison as a liberal elite, they’re going to run code-words for “black” and probably not even bother with code for his faith.

    And funny, I expect so-called “respectable” Republicans will either pretend it didn’t happen or apologize for it because winning is all that matters.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/30/2016 - 10:55 am.


    I understand the Republican position, and why some Republicans might be enthused about Ellison as the DNC Chair, but it’s worth pointing out that the same sort of enthusiasm affected Democrats last summer as they considered the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

    Be careful what you wish for, Republicans…

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 11/30/2016 - 11:10 am.

    Part-time rep?

    He’d be a great chair, full time. He needs to consult his district voters about the need to resign his seat if he has a new job. Even if Dems elect him leader his district may want a full time rep.

    Should he become the target of religious bigots, so be it. The hate is there, it’s widespread, and it needs to be weeded out. This blot on our nation cannot be papered over by a mere inaugural ball.

    • Submitted by Cheryl Salo on 11/30/2016 - 12:35 pm.

      I voted

      for Rep. Ellison and I also emailed him a week ago asking him to stay on as FULL-time representative for District 5 rather than also becoming DNC chair. So far no complete response…

      • Submitted by John Ferman on 11/30/2016 - 01:02 pm.

        Re: I Voted

        I also emailed Keith not to be the DNC chair, that as it promises to be full-time + over-time he would not be effective for his district. As a further note, the 5th district DFL has not been grooming anyone to succeed Keith. Sad, in that I well remember the Martin Sabo days.

        • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 11/30/2016 - 03:01 pm.

          Sabo tried to push his aide onto the party, and we said “No.” Then Sabo flirted with the Independence Party candidate. Marty didn’t cover himself in glory on the way out.

  4. Submitted by Dave Hintzman on 11/30/2016 - 02:08 pm.

    Is he the correct person to lead?

    Interesting article and added comments. I wonder sometimes how far back the authors go in researching an individuals history. So much misinformation in the media today it’s difficult to determine at times, fact from fiction. I’m rather neutral as to Ellison heading up the DNC. If you go to:
    http://www.dailycaller.com (right leaning conservative paper) and search some articles covering Keith Ellison or what may have been his pen name; Keith Hakim wrote two articles in the U of MN paper, Minnesota Daily in 1989-90. Are they relevant today? Are they accurate? How does one decide if all the information isn’t fully made known.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/30/2016 - 09:53 pm.

      “may have been”?

      So you don’t really know if this has any connection with Keith Ellison.
      One might start one’s decision making with know facts supported by evidence.
      As for the dailycaller, a quick look is more than enough.

      • Submitted by Robert Owen on 12/01/2016 - 08:21 am.

        It’s the same Keith

        Hakim is the name Ellison used when he wrote the Minnesota Daily articles. There is no dispute.

  5. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/30/2016 - 05:10 pm.

    Party for Who

    It seems to me that the Democratic Party needs to find some common ground with the people who live and work outside of the urban centers if they ever want to have real influence. And by the way, there are a lot of people from all races out there, so being condescending and calling them racists, xenophobes, misogynists, bigots, etc probably isn’t winning the Democratic party any points.

    With this in mind I think Ellison would be a bad choice for the Democratic party. Too far Left and Too urban centric.

    It will be interesting to see what is decided.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/30/2016 - 07:34 pm.


      …it WILL be interesting to see how it all turns out.

      While “common ground” won’t be hard to find, devising policies to take advantage of that common ground might be more difficult. Mostly, that’s because – in case you haven’t noticed – the vast majority of Americans live and work INside the country’s “urban centers,” and to a degree, that’s true in Minnesota as well. Farmers and farm workers make up a tiny portion of the national population, and a definite minority of the population of even a heavily-agricultural Midwestern state like Minnesota. Aligning themselves heavily with rural interests is a prescription for both short and long-term defeat for any political party that adopts it.

      I should add that, when I was growing up on the farm, the vast majority of my neighbors WERE racist, xenophobic, bigoted misogynists. I certainly hope their views have moderated over the decades since then, but Trump’s popularity in rural areas suggests rather strongly that, for many, they have not. After all, Trump’s campaign featured each of those bundles of prejudice, some of them multiple times, so it’s not as if those who voted for Trump can complain that they had no idea what sort of person he is.

      Having spent a good portion of my life living and working in a rural area, I don’t condescend to rural people, but not condescending means not only avoiding stereotyping rural dwellers as uneducated rubes, it also means pointing out precisely those kinds of bigoted attitudes where and when they exist, and it seems they do still exist in rural areas, just as they do in urban ones.

      Ellison is my Congressman. He may, indeed, spend less time on the needs and wishes of his district if he becomes DNC Chair, but under a Trump administration, a culturally and racially-diverse district isn’t likely to gain much attention from Washington anyway. He may be too far left to be effective on the national scene – that remains to be seen, I think – but his district is predominantly urban, so it makes rather good sense that he’d feature urban interests. Further, since most of America’s population is urban, it makes equally good sense for a party – Democratic OR Republican – to pay attention to urban needs and issues. If the GOP weds itself to the Agrarian Myth (Google it), its current round of success may not only be short-lived, it may be a recipe for political suicide.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/30/2016 - 09:27 pm.


        Based on the trend of the MN maps shown on this site, it is not just my farmer friends who find the current Democratic message unacceptable. But please feel free to double down on it, I am sure the GOP will be thankful.


        • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/01/2016 - 09:07 am.

          Red-Blue Maps

          Maps like the one in the link are a seriously misleading gauge of measuring public opinion. Each of the areas may represent a difference of a vote or two. I’m very sure that a portion of the “red” sentiment (interesting that being “red” in the US used to mean something quite different) represents anger and resentment toward being accused of racism, misogyny, bigotry, etc. It seems that for a lot of people, the truth hurts.

          Mr. Brodkorb’s article represents some hard to swallow truths about both of our parties. Keith Ellison might be a veritable gift to the Republican Party in terms of making its long standing practice of race-baiting easier. Part of the con of race-baiting is people’s willingness to believe it’s really the victims of racism who are creating the problem and only creating more problems by pointing out race is the issue. Racism is “someone else’s” issue/problem.

          Maybe we’ve turned a corner in this country by making more overt bigotry socially unacceptable and making the charge of racism an epithet that people would rather not hear. It’s taken 150 years to get to this point. The hardest change is change within ourselves.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/01/2016 - 09:17 pm.

            Or… The Urban Liberals are practicing what they say they most detest.

            The applying of negative labels, calling by derogatory / inflammatory names, accusing of evil intent and judging others who they have never met based in a large part by where they live, their different beliefs and the color of their skin.

            My favorite saying is: ““Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy Now are people on both sides truly open to looking inside at their own prejudice and bias? Or do they want to keep pointing at their “opponents”?

  6. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 11/30/2016 - 05:38 pm.

    I’m sick of this type of rhetoric from the right. Always kick people when they’re down. I didn’t read the byline until I read the words “dumpster fire” and then when I saw that it was Brodkorb, I was saddened that MinnPost has given him a regular outlet to post his opinion. This is a partisan cheap shot that adds nothing useful to the discussion.

    What I find fascinating is that the self-diagnosis of Sen. Bakk when the DFL lost the senate was,:
    “The party’s got to do some soul searching. What is wrong with our message that people in large stretches of the state aren’t connecting with it?”

    In contrast, when Republicans lost the senate and house in 2012, what was Sen. David Hann’s reaction? Exactly the opposite. “Philosophically, we don’t think our ideas are wrong.” Republicans’ task is to do “a better job of communicating.”

    The 2013 Star Tribune article went on to say, “That includes holding down taxes and spending, promoting free-market solutions in health care and other areas, making the state more business-friendly and retaining the traditional legal definition of marriage.”

    These ideas are unimaginative. They are constrictive. They are purely partisan and ideological. That’s because Republicans define every problem through a ideological perspective rather than a humane one. They cannot see with any other perspective. Their opposition to Obamacare is because of ideology. They are opposed to Obamacare even though it was reported this morning on NPR that the number of people who are fighting to pay for medical bills has decreased by 13 million in the last 5 years.


    Will this news sway Republicans and Trump to leave Obamacare in place? Absolutely not, because ideology matters more to them than what has beneficial impact on real people’s lives.

    So the worst thing the Democrats could do is to change their message. What they better learn how to do better, which may be impossible in the age of Trump, is to get their story out there. And from what I can tell, that’s what Ellison is trying to do.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/01/2016 - 03:49 pm.

      “We’re just not getting that message across.”

      Reported this morning, right here on MinnPost, the words of Minnesota District 1 U.S. House Representative Tim Walz (D):

      “A former high school teacher, Walz recalled something: “If I taught a lesson and the majority of kids did not do well when I was trying to get an assessment of how they did in a test, I didn’t assume the kids weren’t very smart.

      “I assumed I didn’t teach it well. So, I think for Democrats, we may not want to assume the kids aren’t doing well. They’re doing just fine. We’re just not getting that message across.””

      Don’t change a thing; stay the course/

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/01/2016 - 02:45 pm.

    We of CD5 …

    We of CD5 are accustomed to part-time representation, as Ellison leads the Minnesota league in missed votes, with about twice as many as the second to dead last finisher. He submitted explanations for less than half of his missed votes.


    He seems well suited for the job.

  8. Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/01/2016 - 03:44 pm.

    As a Democrat

    I like Keith as a congressman. I think he would be a disaster as DNC chair or running any kind of big organization.

    This is a guy who didn’t file his taxes for 5 years, who got his driver’s license suspended for not paying tickets, who had campaign finance violations for not filing. He is an organizational disaster. It’s a very different skill set to be one of 435 and to go on TV than it is to manage a big organization.

    The law school anti-Semitic stuff isn’t great either, but could be forgiven if his other qualifications were better. They aren’t.

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