Minnesota GOP 2012 Strategy Backfires

"Vote No" forces celebrate victory

"Vote No" forces celebrate victory

Brilliant political maneuvers sometimes are too clever by half. That proved to be the case Tuesday with the election strategy of the Minnesota Republican Party, which suffered the biggest political thrashing Minnesota has seen in a generation. Not even the Gophers football team gets kicked around like the GOP was Tuesday.

The party lost control of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, lost first-term 8th District Congressman Chip Cravaack, who now is free to move home to New Hampshire, and — amazingly — almost lost three-term 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who narrowly avoided being defeated and sending Tea Party stalwarts across the country to see their therapists.

Other losers on election night included: John Nienstedt, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul – Minneapolis, who put his pulpits and about $1 million of his parishioner’s money into the campaign to safeguard the state Constitution against gay marriage; the StarTribune, which perplexingly endorsed Cravaack despite his opposition to most of the paper’s editorial stands; and the Pioneer Press, which supported passage of the Marriage Amendment without having the guts to say it out loud. The endorsement that dare not speak its name.

Biggest winner of the night: Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. He may not hit many 40-yarders anymore, but he was right on with his assessment of the marriage amendment issue, and helped bring the case against the amendment to young voters who, like Kluwe, adopted a kick-ass attitude against it.

Whatever side you are on, it’s hard not to realize that the Republican defeat was driven by the over-reaching ambition of GOP tacticians who thought they could disguise partisan ploys to pump up their voter base as efforts to promote the public weal. It didn’t work. Voters saw through the amendments and torched them, big time.

It turns out, in 2012, the voters still want to be told the truth. Imagine that.

The election message is clear: Minnesota Republicans, who unceremoniously ejected proven office-winners like former Governors Arne Carlson and Al Quie from the party, need to try build a bigger tent. If they want to see what one looks like, they should have been at the Saint Paul River Centre on election night, where large and energized throngs wildly celebrated the defeat of the amendments limiting marriage and voting rights that had been the centerpieces of the GOP election effort. Arne Carlson was there, along with a sprinkling of other exiled Republicans. But the crowd mainly was made up of the young, the enthusiastic, the tireless idealists who just plain out-worked the opposition this fall to win convincing come-from-behind victories that few, if any observers saw coming. That energy is likely to hang around for a while. A Republican revival won’t be easy.

The GOP hoped the amendments would energize its base, increase voter turnout and build an unstoppable movement, and they were right. They just were wrong about which base would be energized, and which party would benefit. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, observed before the results were in that the Republicans had ram-rodded the proposed Constitutional amendments through the Legislature and on to the ballot in the belief they would help them “hijack” this election, and the next one. Instead, the amendments blew up in the GOP’s face, bringing about a historic repudiation of the party’s politics, handing a solid rebuke to the tactics of intransigent partisanship, and scorching Republican hopes to hold onto the Legislature. The GOP refusal¬† to compromise on the amendments last spring and the heavy-handed way in which they were brought to a vote got the attention of Minnesota voters:¬† They didn’t like what they saw. The result: The two-year GOP control of the State Senate — the first in almost four decades — is over. And the DFL has regained control of the Minnesota House, as well. Before they get too excited, however, the Dems would be wise to take a look back at the last two years of GOP mistakes, in the hopes on not repeating them.

This is a lesson big enough for both parties.

The Republican miscues amounted to a misjudgement of enormous proportions, and the finger-pointing and blame finding that should follow will be as necessary as it will be painful.

Did someone just say, “Michael Brodkorb?”

If you are looking for a GOP goat, Bad Boy Brodkorb is a good start. His dalliance with former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch — the first woman to lead the senate in state history — led to her resignation from her leadership position, her decision not to seek re-election, a meltdown among Senate Republicans, and — we are still waiting to see how this comes out — a costly lawsuit by Brodkorb, the disgraced former senate communications chief and co-architect (with former GOP Chair Tony Sutton) of the party’s busted election strategies and its busted bank accounts.

Democrats should give Brodkorb an appreciation dinner. But not invite him.

Honesty is, in the end, is what the public demands, and honesty is what was missing from the way Republicans tried to rule during the failed period in which they held the keys.

There is scant evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota, and even less evidence that Republicans were concerned about passing a partisan, one-sided, poorly written Voter ID amendment for any reason more noble than suppressing Democratic turnout and using the Constitution to their advantage. The voters saw through the smokescreen of self-serving GOP arguments, and shot the amendment down. Similarly, Republican leaders, distracted by a sex scandal of the heterosexual kind, did not seem overly concerned about blocking gays and lesbians from joining in Holy Matrimony. In fact, it was Brodkorb who admitted they were only trying to throw red meat to conservatives.

When Republicans took control of the Legislature 22 months ago, Brodkorb said last month in interviews that were widely reported, they sat down to figure out a stratagem to ensure high conservative voter turnout this Fall, in order to preserve their new Legislative majority.

Brilliant!

GOP leaders denied Brodkorb’s claim, but it resonated with a majority of voters who sensed the insincerity behind the Republican embrace of the so-called “Marriage Amendment,” and rejected it. The result is the end of the GOP’s short-lived amateur hour, an opportunity which has been bungled away by scandal and an obstinate indifference to the voters’ expectation for cooperation and compromise among elected officials. The GOP convinced Minnesota of its single-minded determination to push through its agenda at all costs. Yes, we believe they were sincere about that. And that’s why they got taken to the wood chipper.

Even Michele Bachmann almost ended up on the pile of defeats.

Bachmann easily brushed aside her earlier challengers, but barely survived in her contest with DFLer Jim Graves, who financed most of his $2 million campaign himself. Bachmann spent 10 times that amount, almost $20 million, which made the 6th District race the mot expensive House race in the country, according to Open Secrets. Even if you allot $8 million of that amount to her abortive presidential campaign, that still leaves the 6th District as probably the third most expensive contest, and means she spent a staggering $67 for each vote she received. She might have done better if she had stood on a corner handing out fresh twenty-dollar bills.

Clearly, the Divine Miss M’s time in the spotlight is in danger of coming to an end. And her close call signals just how fundamentally wing-nut politics have been rejected in Minnesota.

Now, for the first time since the days of Rudy Perpich, the DFL controls state government. They better study the GOP playbook quickly. In order that they don’t repeat it.

If you don’t think that could happen, please dust off a state history book and turn to the chapter called, “1978.”
That was the year of the “Minnesota Massacre,” when arrogant leaders of a political party that had lost touch with the voters were soundly defeated in a clean sweep that cleared the board.

The well-deserving victims in that 1978 repudiation were all Democrats.

Nick Coleman

Nick Coleman is a 7th-generation Minnesotan who is an award-winning journalist, veteran Twin Cities newspaper columnist and former Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow. He is a member of the Board of Directors of The UpTake and has been the Executive Editor since 2012. More about Nick Coleman »

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