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Why looking at Ventura’s term as governor isn’t likely to offer any insights into Trump’s presidency

Gov. Jesse Ventura
REUTERSGov. Jesse Ventura

Over the last 20 years of being involved in politics, I’ve spent hours watching returns trickle in on Election Day. Usually, I’m either happy or disappointed with the results. But there have been two times when my reaction was something else: shock.

The first time was on Nov. 3, 1998, the day Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. At the time, I was a young Republican staffer, working on the campaign of Norm Coleman, who was then running against Ventura and Democrat Skip Humphrey. Over the course of that campaign, I had observed Ventura continually buck the conventional rules of politics, which would ultimately lead to his surprising victory on Election Day.

Almost two decades later, I experienced that same feeling when Donald Trump was elected president.

There have been other parallels. On the campaign trail, both men tended to say whatever they felt like saying, the way they wanted to say it. Both found that the conventional rules of politics didn’t apply to them. And in the immediate aftermath of both elections, voters, the media, and political pundits were in disbelief at the results. In 1998, even the people who voted for Ventura were shocked that he won. Sound familiar?

So, as we we wait for Trump to officially become the 45th president of the United States, can we prepare ourselves for his four years as president by reviewing Ventura’s four years as governor?

Not really.

Every day, it seems, we learn how difficult it is to measure an unconventional candidate such as Trump — like Ventura before him — by conventional standards. But two unconventional candidates can be unconventional for different reasons. And one of the inherent problems with trying to predict how Trump will act during his presidency is that, as with Ventura, even Trump doesn’t know what he is going to do in many situations, even on matters he’s already taken positions on.

Remember, Ventura took office promising to reduce the size of state government. Yet overall state spending increased during his years as governor. He campaigned on a pledge to veto any tax increases, but then proposed raising the gas tax, increasing the sales tax on cigarettes, and extending the sales tax to include car repairs and legal services.

There’s another big difference. Ventura came into office as the lone elected official from the Reform Party. He had no natural political allies at the state Capitol to help advance his agenda. This isolated him politically, which hardened his relationship with legislators. 

As a Republican, Trump will have elected majorities in Congress and an energized party apparatus to promote his policies. The party infrastructure around Trump should also help (maybe) temper his rough edges.

There are two things Trump and Ventura do share. One is a complicated and contentious relationship with the media. Ventura’s encounters with journalists became so hostile that his office famously issued press credentials labeled “Official Jackal” to reporters. (Ventura’s office claimed it was a joke, but the humor was lost on many.)

The other, of course, is the idea that many believed their candidacies were a joke. Minnesota survived Ventura just fine. It’s anybody’s guess who’ll be laughing after four years of Donald Trump.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by B Carlson on 12/19/2016 - 11:39 am.

    Don’t worry

    Trump will do just fine.

    My reasoning? We have not had a decent president since the FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower terms. Not a single president since then has done much good at all for our country, it would be almost impossible for Trump to be any worse than any of them.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/20/2016 - 09:34 am.

      “Not a single President . . .”

      No, not much good has come from the federal government since Ike. Apart, of course, from Medicare and Medicaid, the moon landing, the Civil Rights Acts, the moon landing, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, OSHA, and the internet.

      One inevitably thinks of the “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from The Life of Brian.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/19/2016 - 12:08 pm.

    Jesse Yes Trump No

    Jesse came in with his own unique agenda, not beholding or even belonging to either party. He appointed commissioners from left, right and center. His judicial appointments are still the gold standard: He asked that those recommending judges simply pick the best ones, regardless of party affiliation. When we had a surplus, he gave it back on a one time basis when the Ds wanted spending that would not go away and the Rs wanted a permanent tax cut. Jesse was the adult in the room: Which does not say too much for our other elected officials.

    Jesse proved that a normal every day citizen, and not a career politician could be our Governor. His results are better than we later got from TPAW and comparable to Carlson and Dayton.

    Unfortunately for us today, even Jesse had the humility to admit he needed some help upon his election and looked for it on a bi partisan basis. Which leaves us to two words that we all know the relationship between: TRUMP and HUMILITY.

    • Submitted by Steven Bailey on 12/19/2016 - 06:08 pm.

      Totally Agree

      Jesse was a very good Governor. He was a driving force behind the Hiawatha Light Rail, made school funding more fair and appointed a very good group of judges. My only complaint is getting rid of vehicle inspections.

  3. Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 12/19/2016 - 12:58 pm.

    Ventura had Competent Agency Heads

    There was no equivalent of Betsy DeVos in Ventura’s cabinet.

  4. Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/19/2016 - 02:47 pm.


    Both Trump and Ventura lack the patience and Temperment to govern. Ventura got bored and Minnesota essentially functioned without a governor for four years. He did, however, appoint good people and the state did fine without him. Wish I could say the same for Trump.

  5. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 12/19/2016 - 04:14 pm.

    A Jesse Ventura moment

    I felt before the election that we might be in for another Jesse Ventura moment, but was still surprised at the results given how uniquely unqualified Trump is. The playbook ends there, though. The people who voted for Ventura and those who stepped up to be part of his administration were competent, decent folks who want to do the best they could for Minnesota. Trump’s supporters include a rogue’s gallery of what Clinton described as “deplorables”, along with the usual partisans who will pull the lever for “R” no matter what, and most tragically, people whose health and fortunes have been sapped by the modernization of manufacturing and globalism and who pinned their hope for a better future on a slick con man. Within the GOP it will be impossible to reconcile these groups and their demands, so the fallback position will be a toxic (but familiar) GOP prescription of deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in Federal spending, and voucherization of programs like Medicare along with a full-scale raid on the Social Security Trust Fund. Given time, this will slow growth, increase suffering among the poor and sick, allow Wall Street to blow up another bubble, and perhaps plunge us into a full-blown depression. And that’s without considering the possibility of another war cooked up by Trump’s hard-line generals. Jesse looks pretty good by comparison.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/20/2016 - 08:06 am.

    It’s odd to say, but the professional wrestler was a more honest person that the tycoon, and had real roots among “regular” folks. And he had a skeptical legislature to deal with.

    Whereas Trump has a blank check from Congress, an insatiable ego who wants no oppositional advice, a “dream team” group of cable news grifters as enablers, advisors and cabinet, a delusional view of the world, and has the power to force America down the road to destruction.

    Other than that, exactly the same.

  7. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 12/21/2016 - 09:30 am.

    Rough edges

    “The party infrastructure around Trump should also help (maybe) temper his rough edges.” Like von Hindenberg thought the cabinet would temper Hitler’s rough edges when he became chancellor.

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