Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Stanek

In January I wrote a piece called "The Coming of Governor Tina Flint Smith." The title of the piece was, essentially, its substance. It can be read by clicking here.

At the end of it I suggested that there was only one republican who could beat Smith in a general election. Many thought that I was referring to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and, in fact, I was. In the five months that passed since I wrote that column, however, I was uncertain if he had any interest in the job. I'm not a confidante of the Sheriff and would hardly share anything here if I were. That said, the people I know who know him much better have been saying they see no indication of him running for governor. Yesterday I concluded he is.

Stanek is a sui generis republican: the largest vote getter of any republican in the state and consistently so. Police work has been thoroughly politicized--you might have noticed--and Stanek deftly has stayed on top of that process while not succumbing outright to it. Frequently it's hard to discern whether cops in Minnesota are law enforcement or social workers with clipboards. External, highly organized elements outside of it have taken their toll: what would otherwise constitute straightforward police work is now tinged with politically correct language and posturing so as not to offend the perpetually offended. There really is nothing that progressives touch which they don't make worse.

Stanek's politics are both obvious and obtuse. Centered in the world of policing, he strikes moderate positions on the issues du jour: opioid abuse, bad! human trafficking, not cool! bike theft from self-absorbed yuppies in south Minneapolis, wrong! And so forth. If he's done or said something controversial lately I've simply missed it and I've been paying attention. In some ways, his appeal to too many factions is the most off putting thing about him to me. I'm happy to live with it, though.

He says he loves his job and from all appearances this seems to be the case. Some say he has no desire to be governor but, rather, to become head of the National Sheriff's Association. This has always struck me as wanting more cowbell: how appealing is it really to be head of an association you've been a member of for a long time? Then again, every Elks Lodge must have its grand master or whatever.

Yesterday Stanek addressed the Minnesota Republican Party state convention in Duluth with his wife in attendance. Had he declared the day before that he was running for governor his speech wouldn't have needed to be changed in the slightest. Indeed, I thought it was unambiguously blunt: he bragged about his vote totals in Hennepin County, he condemned go along to get along governing which only results in bigger government (the managed surrender style of House Speaker Kurt Daudt seemed to be the target here) and said that a tax increase is a tax increase, not a "user fee" with respect to higher license tab fees put forth by republicans.

But it was more than that: he pointed out he carried all 45 cities in Hennepin County his last election, and then went on to a crowd approving recitation: calling for immigration enforcement (he's weak on this subject and must improve), protecting gun ownership, pressing for prosecution of Hillary's email national security crimes, and coming down on the side of Apple in the privacy wars (doesn't he update this speech?).

All that could reasonably be said to be just so much red meat to a red meat audience. Well and good. Yet Stanek immediately went on with no transition to speak about issues far afield from Hennepin County policing. He was unsubtle but I liked that; I would.

For example, Stanek came out against the paid family leave initiative in Minneapolis, disparaged any need for an increase in either the gas tax or license tab fees, reminded the party it had endorsed him a mere 8 times, and used the word "great" about a dozen times in his closing remarks.

Here is what I found to be his most directly political comment:

"You know folks I think as republicans we need to be much clearer with Minnesota voters in our message about what we stand for. We need to break down the walls of the party, get rid of the party test and the "not conservative enough" messaging that gets in the way of winning winnable elections."

His demeanor was refreshingly, unapologetically what we used to think of as republican. The contrast to the sad heirs of the failed Pawlenty governorship (and style) could hardly be starker, yet without being strident. Stanek, if he wishes, can win big in Minnesota by doing what I've advocated all republicans do: strip out Trump, win on Trumpism.

Make Minnesota Great Again.™

The Uptake provided exceptional coverage of the convention and Stanek's speech can be seen in its entirety by clicking here.

Photo credit: Left to right Janee Harteau, Richard Stanek, President Barack Obama
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trump's Triumph & Minnesota Republicans

On the night of the Indiana primary, which effectively sealed Donald Trump's victory as the republican nominee for president, progressive powerhouse and CNN commentator Van Jones cautioned his fellow democrats about mistaking this candidate for one who could easily be beaten. To the contrary, and running against the grain of smugness for which liberalism is justifiably known, Van Jones perceptively admonished his peers to build the sandbags high because "there's a wave coming."

Since Trump has become our nominee (enough with the "presumptive" lingo), Minnesota republicans have displayed their trademark incompetence, dithering and, worst of all, hollowed-out virtue signaling, in trying to fashion a response to the attacks from the well oiled astroturf groups on the Left who believe, mistakenly, that their old playbook can be used once again this cycle.

Elsewhere it would fail aborning: Trump has destroyed the suffocating miasma of political correctness and the unwarranted influence the media has had for too long in the selection process of republican nominees. Please like us, please clap. Those same toadies exist in Minnesota and account in no small measure for why republicans haven't won a statewide race in a decade. Wake me when we have someone who can defeat Tina Flint Smith cum Elena Ceausescu.™

Here it might work because Minnesota republicans don't know how to fight, push back, stand up or advocate for what they believe in, to the extent they believe in anything not up for sale to the highest bidder. Compromise is their m├ętier and they expect to be applauded for routinely surrendering on the most favorable terms possible. That it's a surrender is, to them, beside the point. Look at the terms! No wonder Trump's emphasis on winning scares them so: winning isn't in their vocabulary.

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We have far too many republicans, in or out of office, on Almanac or At Issue or not, who simply don't know how to message in this environment. Of course, they've not very savvy in the best of circumstances and with Trump the mediocrity of Minnesota republicans takes on an especially high profile. But, as Dan Rather would say, "courage."

Overwhelmingly Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. The hackneyed phrase "change election" is certainly warranted in being applied to this one. For Minnesota republicans, not to fasten onto this is malpractice. 

"Yes, I support the nominee as I have every presidential election year. Like those prior nominees, there are some things I agree with and others I don't. But what's clear is the damage President Obama and the far left have inflicted on this country. Hillary wants an Obama third term but the Minnesotans I talk to don't seem interested. Forget Trump as the messenger, we can all agree on the areas that he has highlighted."

One then proceeds to tailor to their area, district or cause those issues which help them gain and maintain traction. There's no shortage: stagnant wages, zero good jobs creation, America's low standing in the world's regard, foolish wars that Hillary will only continue or--Rubio like--start new, i.e., Syria, illegal immigration & its attendant crime wave, the refreshing and correct characterization of the American media (scum) and so on. I would suggest that the variations on these themes are only limited by one's imagination but that quality is in short supply amongst republicans here. 

The DFL, for a change, is looking stale and outdated. Is there anything Trump can't do? The press conferences, press releases, sound bites and quotes in the local liberal media should be laughed at because they're not to be taken seriously. Laugh when they call Trump racist; no one believes it. Laugh when they call Trump misogynist; no one believes it. Whatever the over the top characterization, laughter is the best response. He's had ten months of national coverage, national attacks, and none of those smears have stuck because they're not true in the slightest. In other words Minnesota republicans, he's withstood far more than you ever could and has already done the work for you this cycle. The least you could do is pick up on it.

Republicans on the Iron Range should be flat out running on Trump's themes of populism and nationalism. His appeal to a significant portion of democrats is nowhere more in evidence there. By not affirmatively seizing those themes and echoing them, republicans let democrats escape once more. The very idea of holding Minnesota democrats responsible for failure seems anathema to Minnesota republicans. Strip out Trump: run on Trumpism. I should charge for this column even though it points out only the bleedingly obvious. And to think of those who get paid for helping our candidates routinely lose.

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At present there seems to be a significant Chicken Little brigade in Minnesota republican politics (cringingly they attempt to pass themselves off as the smart set, except they're the type you just know don't read books). They've always existed but this cycle they want more than usual to be liked by the press and the democrats. Some are lobbyists, some are in staff positions or ensconced in low level office. None are leaders and few possess actual skills to make them good in their political role. The chief goal of such types appears to be the approval of similar types. Why republicans haven't won a statewide race in a decade is no mystery.

Running away from Trump this cycle will be a disaster for Minnesota republicans. Using his political phenomenon and resulting political earthquake can yield real benefits. But you have to be good, you have to take the initiative and you have to attack the corrupt left. As John Lennon sang about a different topic "it's easy if you try."

The trying is all. Why not do it? Think if the DFL had socialist Bernie Sanders atop their ticket. Would you see chuckleheads on local political television say that they won't support him for this reason or that? Would you see their leader in the House make a hash of things in declining to endorse him until he was instructed otherwise by his political svengali?

Of course we wouldn't. They'd distance themselves from the least helpful aspects of Bernie, cherry pick themes and issues that work best for them and trash relentlessly the republican opponent. The latter point is key: democrats in this state are shameless, frequently unethical and routinely demagogic. The republicans tend to be weak, insipid and full of unwarranted self regard.

Can this change in a single cycle? The people who said it was going to be Jeb, or Rubio, or Cruz are hardly the ones to ask. Those of us who understood we were witnessing a political upheaval, even as we tried to understand it, have a different view. At a minimum, we're optimistic that things can change in ways never before thought possible. That includes Minnesota republicans becoming politically competent.