What The Hell Do We Do With The MNGOP (Part II)`

Manfred Von Richtoven – better known to history as the Red Baron, the highest-scoring fighter pilot of World War I – was once asked for his “mission statement”, as they’re called in business today.

Paraphrasing closely, he said “My mission is to patrol my sector, and shoot down the enemy.  All else is bulls**t”. 


As I noted yesterday, Tim Pawlenty has done a great job as governor – in great part because he followed through on his promises.  (And lest anyone think I’m disparaging Governor Pawlenty in any way in saying this, let me add right now that I echo what King says in every single particular.  Thanks, Governor!)

And, as we noted yesterday, the promises that have mattered the most – indeed, the ones that have defined his administration – were the ones he made to get nominated; the No New Taxes pledge foremost among them.  To his immense credit, Governor Pawlenty has largely kept that promise, especially with the big things; I’m willing to sacrifice a pawn to take a queen; I’m likewise wiling (if not thrilled) to trade “health fees” one year for unallotment this year; it’s not purist conservative gospel, and it’s pragmatic, but that’s politics for you.

Which means that much of the success of the Pawlenty Administration came from his reaction to a powerful, motivated insurgency within the party – the conservative candidacy of Brian Sullivan.  Sullivan was a self-funded maverick (not a McCain kind, the real kind) who ran on a platform that’d have done Ronald Reagan proud.  It scared the crap out of the party establishment – so much so that “their” candidate, Pawlenty, had to adopt one of their key tenets to get the  nomination.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The good kind.

Of course, motivated insurgencies are always a headache to the establishment of any organization, at any level.  In 2006, many long-time Sixth District activists were turned off by Michele Bachmann’s organization; she flooded the precinct caucuses with supporters, which gave her a crushing majority of delegates at every level of the endorsement process.  She went on, of course, to win twice, including last fall, when the Conventional Wisdom said she would lose; she’s the most conservative voice in Minnesota elective politics; thank goodness the establishment didn’t get their way.

Another insurgency, we’re still digesting; last year, Ron Paul supporters flooded precincts caucuses throughout the state.  They brought boundless motivation, energy and (after one filtered out a few hundred thousand resolutions about the Trans-American Freeway and 9/11 being an inside job) some good, solid, libertarian-conservative politics.  It scared the establishment, who in some cases had to resort to parliamentary maneuvering that baffled the newcomers; in other cases, they just plain had to organize their opposition.

None of those three insurgencies change the party, fundamentally.  But all of them had their effects; the compromises that the parties had to make through the process made the party stronger, in each case.


There’s another insurgency this year. It’s not of quite the same import as the 2002 Sullivan assault.  It’s not going to send anyone to Washington.  It’s not going to shake the party down to its precincts.  But it’s important; just different.

For one thing, the battle for State Party Chair doesn’t have the same constituents as a convention, much less a general election; it’s the party Central Committee that’ll be doing the voting.  And nobody vaults into the Central Committee from nowhere.  It’s something that comes from years of service to the party.  Which means that, no matter what one believes, one has developed the network of connections and allegiances that are the building blocks of any “establishment”.

State Chairman elections, thus, are not unpredictable free-for-alls.  The network, the connections, the establishment has a very, very strong voice in the process.  As, perhaps, is entirely fitting. 

Tony Sutton is a good candidate; I believe he will make a good State Chairman.  I also believe that, since he is the establishment’s candidate, his connections with that establishment – the Central Committee – are strong enough that the election is his.  That’s not a bad thing because – this is important – his job is not to define the party’s philosophy.  That’s the job of the individual candidates, and the people who recruit them and, to some extent the districts they come from.  The chairman’s job is to run the administrative wing of the party, and make sure the party supports the candidates, and above all to raise tons and tons of money to make sure that support is there when it’s needed.

I don’t believe there’s any real question that Tony Sutton is going to win.  And I think he will do a good job (and if he doesn’t, I’ll be joining a hell of a lot of Republicans in pointing it out).   While I don’t like “Next In Line” politics, I think Sutton’s experience in the party machinery makes him qualified to run the party machinery.

I fully expect to be congratulating Tony Sutton next Saturday (June 13) after the Central Committee elections, and sincerely offering him my support (for whatever that’s worth) in helping the GOP kick ass in 2010.

But the party does need a swift kick in the pants, too.  The party machinery is decayed and complacent in some areas; the party has ceded the Fourth and Fifth Districts to the Dems for far too long; candidate recruitment and development is lagging badly in places like the First District, and is virtually nonexistent in the Cities.  The party still acts like it’s the 1970’s in terms of decentralizing authority; ask anyone who’s sat at a Congressional District convention and fumed as debate was slashed to ramrod District Committee initiatives through the processes.  The party machinery needs to make a contest of the entire state, not just the South, the Red River Valley, and the second-through-sixth-tier suburbs.

So while Tony Sutton will, I believe, be the next MNGOP Party Chairman, the party needs to put these goals – the need to not just embrace change, but conquer it; the need to adapt to a world where authority is decentralizing – out front. 

They need not so much to fight the DFL, but to present the GOP in a light that wins people over to what the party represents, and to make sure the candidates that do that are supported.


I don’t “endorse” people on this blog.  I’m just a workadaddy, hugamommy schnook from Saint Paul, with a couple of kids and a mortgage and a day job.  And I am not on the Central Committee, so my opinion really matters only inasmuch as I have a readership and a modestly popular talk show – i.e. not all that much.   To call my opinion an “endorsement” only makes sense as humor.  So I don’t endorse.

But I support Dave Thompson for State Party Chair. 

Part of it is that I like Dave, and I support his positions.  Dave’s politics largely agree with mine.  And I believe that if he were the state chairman, it’d send a message about the kind of candidate this party should be recruiting, and the kind of races we should be running; center-right, unapologetic, as tightly-focused on a solid, winning message as an hour of Dave’s talk show always was.  I believe that Dave has a good command of what politics is turning into in this state – which isn’t so important for an administrator, but is vital for a leader.

It’s not a shot at Tony Sutton or his supporters.  As I said, I believe Tony will win in the end, and I will work to support the party if and when he does. 

But it is a warning shot across the bow of the state party; “I support you, but not without question.  I expect results from you and your administration.  The stakes are too high to be complacent“, not that I don’t believe Sutton knows that.  “Come back with your shield, or on it“.

Whoever wins, the real challenges start June 14: recruit canddiates.  Build a bench.  Raise money.  Get a message out there.

Further conservatism; limit government; promote growth, security, and limited government.

Win races, and make those victories matter.

As to everything else?  Ask the Red Baron.

What The Hell Do We Do About The MNGOP, Part I

I was originally going to call this piece “What The Hell Is Wrong With the MNGOP, Part X”; there’s plenty more to talk about in that series.

But in the aftermath of the last legislative session, and especially Governor Pawlenty’s epic, lone stand against the DFL’s tax-and-spend orgy, I’m inclined to answer my question “not as much as there was eight years ago”.  Or last year, for that matter.

Nobody’s ever mistaken Tim Pawlenty for a movement conservative – and some of my Buchananite friends sputter angrily when I even mention “conservative” in the same paragraph as Pawlenty, who is certainly a pragmatist, front and center – but he’s delivered on the one big honka-lunka mega-issue that every conservative should agree on; curbing spending and the size and reach of government.

And while the GOP Senate caucus is too small to sustain any gubernatorial vetoes, the House caucus did itself proud this year, doing something many of us had nearly given up on seeing; doing what they were sent to Saint Paul to do; acting like a party; presenting Minnesota an alternative to the DFL, rather than acquiescing with the majority like a herd of hamsters.

It’d be much better to be in control – but the party showed big signs of hope.

And I think it all traces back to something that happened eight years ago at the State GOP Convention.

If you’re a Minnesota Republican, you remember the story; Brian Sullivan, a movement conservative, took Pawlenty, then the House Minority leader, to 3,000 ballots over forty days and forty nights of voting.  Pawlenty had to move sharply to the right of his normally pragmatic, legislative-negotiation-honed positions to win the nomination, finally taking the Taxpayers League’s “No New Taxes” pledge to secure the nomination.

Sullivan didn’t win the nomination – but had he not been in the race, Pawlenty would never have moved right; conservatism would have lost.

So what we have in Minnesota today – gubernatorial unallotment standing in the way of a state-bankrupting spending orgy – we owe to Sullivan (as well as a governor who has had the integrity to stick to his promises all these years against Thermopylean odds).

And this is what the party needs to recover from the last two drubbings: a coherent message, and the willingness to live and fight for that message when the heat’s on.

So on Saturday, June 13, the Central Committee of the Minnesota GOP is going to elect a new chair.  There are a couple of great choices on the ballot.

What are we going to do?

More tomorrow.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP: Part IX

In 1993, disgusted with the GOP’s pusillanimous acquiescence on the Clinton Crime Bill (as gross an imposition on civil liberty as this country’s ever seen), I left the Republican party in disgust.

“What the hell was wrong with the GOP”, at that time, was that it had completely abandoned the notion of small government, and stampeded with a herd of Democrats to the left on a slew of privacy and civil liberties issues.

I figured that if the party actively subverted what I believed, and I didn’t have the capacity to change it myself or find enough people who believed as I did to change it, I shouldn’t be there.  So I joined the Libertarians.  I skipped the Gingrich Revolution (although I approved of it).  I even ran for office.  It was worth it; I developed an appreciation for what major parties are for; organization, mainly.

And in ’98, I came back. I figured I wasn’t going to win every battle, but it was worth fighting for in exchange for having a shot at getting what I believe actually in office.
So after eight parts, I’ve said…what?

That the Minnesota GOP needs a message, one that attracts people.

Of course – as someone involved in party operations noted the other day – the party doesn’t put out messages.  The party works the people who do – the candidates and the groups of supporters who put them into contention.  The state party chairperson and the other officials elected by the Central Committee and, least of all, the party’s paid staff have very little to do with the message that candidates put out, other than making sure they don’t completely violate the platform.

All that’s true.

But there’s still a problem in the MNGOP.

As we all know, Norm Coleman trails in the “recount” process by something like 300 votes.  Leave aside for a moment the byzantine nature of the recount, or the  patchwork of “standards” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) that led to the 500 vote swing, or the danger this sort of uncertainty provides to democracy itself, what with not one in 100 voters being able to explain how we got here, and probably not one percent of those able to define the standards themselves.

Why is Norm Coleman behind by 300 votes?

Because he’s “too conservative?”  Please.  He was a DFLer.  He nominated Paul Wellstone in 1996.  He won two terms as mayor of Saint Paul as a moderate DFLer.

Because the opposition was so strong?  Well, it was a bad year for Republicans.  But the fact that such a relatively large number of people voted for Dean Barkley – the prickly wonk thrust into prominence by Jesse Ventura’s caprice and Paul Wellstone’s death – shows how little Barack Obama’s coattails were worth, even here.

All that is true.  But Coleman also lost because several “Republican party” factions actively campaigned against him, because of some of his votes (ANWR, among others). Did these factions bring up a viable alternative within the party?  Of course not. But they did actively sway people against Norm Coleman.  Was it 300 votes worth?  We will never know, but it’s not unreaonable.

These groups’ reasoning?  “The GOP needs to learn its lesson”. So what did we get for it?  If this recount wends its way to a Franken victory, we get an even more veto-proof Dem majority in Washington, to further grease the Obama Administration’s path, lubing up the skidway to hell.

So one of the things that’s wrong with the MN GOP is Minnesota Republicans themselves.  The party is crowded with people who are in it for a single issue (pro-lifers, God bless ’em, in many cases), or a single candidate (Ron Paul).  That’s good, as far as it goes – but here’s a suggestion:  if you’re in the GOP, then by all means try to influence the GOP in the direction you want. That’s what caucuses and primaries are for.  And an organized, well-motivated group can have quite an effect on the party, there; the Ron Paul supporters made quite an impact last year (and if they have the attention span, they can extend that impact into some real gains).

But if at the end of the day you call yourself a Republican but find yourself actively subverting the party’s candidates, you should ask yourself – is this where I belong?  Is the damage I’m causing to what I believe in by, de facto, helping get Democrats and their entire agenda into office really the goal I had in mind?

No, I’m not saying “your party, love it or leave it”.  Far from it; I applaud the Ron Paul crowd for the organizing and work they’ve done.

But I am asking; if you find yourself subverting the GOP after the caucuses and primaries, from either side – whether you’re a Coleman-hating paleocon or a Sturdevant-hugging Override-Sixer – then why are  you in the GOP? Don’t you belong in the Constitution, Independence, DFL, Libertarian or Natural Law parties?

You’ve got a little over a year to think about it.

Monday:  Summing up.  I think.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP: Part VIII

So what’ should the Minnesota GOP’s message be?

We’ve talked about prosperity – achieved through cutting taxes and spending – and education.

Today, Security.

Security means a lot of things; the Constitution refers to the people’s right to be secure in their homes and possessions.  National security is one of very few real clear mandates upon the federal government. Of course, if you’re a liberal, a complex formula of dairy price supports and support for the National Endowment for the Humanities are vital elements in national security.

But at a state level, it means a few really important things:

  • Afflicting the lawless and comforting the law-abiding:  Law enforcement should be a burden on criminals and ne’er-do-wells, not on the law-abiding citizen.  Quit finding new ways to criminalize legal behavior.
  • Laws are for enforcing: Dangerous people belong in jail.  End Minnesota’s revolving door for career criminals.  Quit subsidizing criminal behavior in this state.
  • Police are not social engineers: if people break laws, any laws, then prosecute them.  That means everyone from CEOs to illegal immigrants. Focus on keeping streets safe, rather than canoodling about as government social policy enforcers.

This makes sense if you’re a Republican – or a citizen who may not be a Republican, but pays their taxes, works hard, and wants to know their neighborhood is their neighborhood, not the scum’s.

It’s easy to make the case that…:

Republicans: Common Sense and Safety.

…presuming we manage to actually embrace common sense: punish criminals, leave the law-abiding alone, quit tolerating (much less subsidizing) bad behavior.

So what’s the alternative?  Revolving door justice.  Criminals who should be in jail attacking, raping and killing people, and illegal immigrants soaking up our resources while the DFL legislature looks for ways to punish the law abiding citizen (the gun owner) and harass those who run afoul of their picayune social policies (Saint Paul’s dwindling number of small landlords).  Our streets grow more dangerous, as the DFL diverts resources away from enforcement and into subsidizing more bad behavior.
Democrats:  Chaos and Fear.

It should be an easy sell:

Republicans: Common Sense and Safety. Democrats:  Chaos and Fear.

Tomorrow: Getting along.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP: Part VII

When figuring out messages for the Minnesota GOP, I limited my scope to things that elected officials and representatives in the State of Minnesota actually have some control over.

And the biggest single thing the State of Minnesota controls is education.  Along with building state infrastructure, education is the biggest bill the state pays, year-in, year-out.

Now, on the one hand Minnesota putatively has much to be proud of; our state’s education system ranks at or near the top of the nation in most categories that matter on the major standardized tests – for those of you who place lots of value in standardized tests (which, let’s remember, test the ability of kids to take tests more than anything).

But in whatever part of Minnesota you live, we’re slipping. As per-pupil education spending skyrockets faster than inflation, inner-city minority graduation rates are falling.  In the rural areas, traditional town schools are being consolidated into big consolidated districts, gaining many of the disadvantages of big urban districts – the maddening bureaucracy, the stunted achievement, the addiction to infrastructure and administrative overhead, the “I’m lost in a huge school” effect that makes urban education such a morass – while losing all the benefits of being a small school, changes made purely for the convenience of the administrative beast.  If you live in a ‘burb with a successful school district, mandates on curriculum and funding formulas are having more and more affect on the schools your communities have built.  If you’re a charter school parent, the education/media complex is trying to draw a big bullseye on your schools’ foreheads.  And if you’ve opted to secede from the school system – like so many inner-city black Charter School parents, Christian homeschoolers, Latino catholic-school parents and Asian kids attending school in the ‘burbs due to Minnesota’s Open Enrollment laws, the DFL majority is aiming the whittle down your choices even as it whittles up the bill we all have to pay for all of those diminishing returns.

And while Minnesota’s test scores – whatever they’re worth – are still strong, you’d be blinkered not to notice that neighboring North Dakota pays vastly less per student for about the same results.

Against this backdrop of failure and anti-parent recrimination, the GOP has consistently stood for the full range of answers to the problem:

  • More accountability in the public system
  • More choices for parents, within and outside the public system.

Or, to sum it up:

Republicans: Parental Control, Choice and Learning.

Against this, the DFL has consistently fought for what’s best for Education – with a capitol “E”, anyway.  This isn’t just bagging on the teachers’ unions; Institutional Education at all levels, from Big Adminsitration to Big Consolidation to Big Union all have their role.  Against this, there is no Big Parent; indeed, the GOP is the closest we’ve got to such a thing.

And the best the DFL can come up with is “the GOP wants to cut education funding”.  It’s a powerful argument – if you don’t dig beneath the facility of the numbers.  Minnesota’s “best” public schools in terms of student achievement are its cheapest; the state’s few remaining one, two and three-room country schools.  Its worst, overall, are the ones that are most “blessed” with resouces.

So we can sum it up:

Democrats:  Bureaucracy and Failure.

The truth is out there; the track record is clear:

Republicans: Parental Control, Choice and Learning. Democrats:  Bureaucracy and Failure.

Tomorrow, “Security”

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP: Part VI

So the mission is this: dispense with the careerism and backbiting and just-plain-doesn’t-matter buncombe that occupies so much of the MNGOP’s time, and come up with a message – a message that’ll not only unite the party, but reach out to people who aren’t especially affiliated with either party to begin with.  A message that will clearly frame the fact that there is a very clear choice between Republicans and Democrats.

Here’s the hard part; they have to be messages that even Republicans agree on amongst themselves.  And that’s a tough one; leaving aside the single-issue voters who might be completely ignorant about issues outside their turf (I can’t count the number of single-issue pro-lifers who’ve claimed to oppose, say, concealed-carry reform, just because they had never cared to learn about the issue beyond what the media told them), a lot of the messages that are absolutely vital to one group of Republicans can be anathema – or at least not very important – to others.

Good example?  Gay marriage.  It’s an issue worth taking up arms over to some Republicans; to the GOP’s tiny gay minority, it’s a goal; to a lot of us (the “Mitch Berg Bloc”, let’s call us), it’s various degrees of “important, but not the most important issue out there.  In any case, it’s an stance that serves more to ensure ideological purity within a movement than to win elections.

The goal here, once again: find messages all Republicans can agree on, and that can win people over to the party.  The idea is this; when we’re back in power, we can fuss about all the issues that divide us; if we’re out of power, we lose on all the issues, no matter what; the Democrats will gut-shoot every liberty that matters while they’re in power.

Last week, I suggested three of those messages:




These are all make-or-break issues on the state level (these are not intended for the national party, although two out of three should be), both for unting the party and winning over voters.

We’re going to go over one of them per day.  We’ll start with prosperity.

America has a hard time not being prosperous.  You airdrop ten Americans in the desert with jackknives and plastic tubing and come back in a week and they’ll have built an ice cream machine, and a commodity market to trade ice cream futures and spin them into complex derivatives that they can sell to the Saudis and then short-sell when the Russians move extra capacity into the sherbet market, making money on the up and downsides.

Oh, business has up and down cycles – creative destruction isn’t just a great band name.  But as John McCain (and now Barack Obama) said, the fundamentals of the American economy – immense human and material resources, drive, constantly-replenishing intellectual capital) are more sound than in any econony on earth…

…provided government gets out of the way.  The most dismal periods in recent American history – the most extended swatches of misery – are the times when government opted to “help” solve financial crises with taxation, regulation and intervention.  Government intervention extended the Great Depression until the beginning of World War II (and, without the war, it’d have likely lasted well into the forties) when it would likely have ended on its own by about 1937-8.  And government regulation and aggressive taxation – the bastard children of FDR and LBJ’s policies – helped make the seventies the dismal morass they were.  And let’s not forget that the mortgage bubble grew out of the government’s mandates to expand sub-prime lending, socializing the risks of shoddy loans.

The more you leave government out of the equation (yes, yes, make sure  nobody’s making baby formula out of arsenic, and yes, the courts exist to an extent to help people get relief from business’ excesses), the better things are.  Any number of the world’s great philosophers and economics and economic philosophers, from Smith to Hayek, have shown how it works; all the greatest periods in American (and world) economic history have accompanied periods of enlightened deregulation.

Conservatives stand for “limited government” – but that’s another ephemeral concept to an awful lot of people.  How do you shrink government?  You starve it!
So how do you sum that up briefly?

Like this:

Republicans: Low Taxes, Prosperity and Freedom.

Low taxes lead to free markets lead to jobs, which leads to prosperity.  Low taxes mean you have more money; having more of the fruits of your labor at your own disposal is freedom – very likely the most-used freedom in our society today.  It’s the freedom to take a trip, donate to charity, put money away for your kids’ education, buy a car, change careers…whatever you choose (which benefit in turn the travel industry, charities, banks, car dealers…)

Republicans equal low taxes. Low taxes equal prosperity. Prosperity equals freedom.

So how does this compare with the alternative?

Democrats:  Taxes and Control.

The Democrats believe that your earnings belong first to government; that government’s mission, and keeping that mission funded, is the reason you work.  Anything left over?  Well, don’t spend it all in one place!

When government claims the fruits of your labor, you don’t control what you do with a third of your life.  You cede control of what you do to the government; you cede your freedom.

DFL Senator Cy Thao put it well at the beginning of the 2007 session; “When you guys win, you get to keep your money.  When we win, we take your money!”.  If the GOP doesn’t make up T-shirts with this saying emblazoned in white on black and distribute them througout the state, they don’t deserve to be a party.

The choice is simple; freedom to enjoy the results of your hard work versus being (in effect) government property.

It’s not just fuzzy-headed libertarian theory; Obama’s current spending mania is going to make you, your children, and your grandchildren into de facto government servants for their entire lives.

There’s nothing abstract about this.

Republicans: Low Taxes, Prosperity and FreedomDemocrats:  Taxes and Control.

Tomorrow:  Education.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP: Part V

Yesterday, I noted that, from an activist’s perspective, the MNGOP seems to want to centralize control of its message – keeping activists and bloggers it doesn’t control at arms length – but at the same time, that it doesn’t seem to know what its’ message is.

It’s a real problem.  It’s easy for Democrats to get on message; most people learned the key points of Democratic/Liberal philosophy in kindergarten; “share and share alike! Take your fair share! Everyone is exactly the same (except your teachers, of course)!”.  Take these simple tropes, tack on the element of state force to get compliance, and you basically have the DFL message; “Share what we think we need, or we’ll take what we want”.  They word it more nicely, but that’s really about it.

It’s more complicated when you’re right of center; many of the tenets of center-right thought are harder, almost counterintuitive, to the things we were tought when we were five years old; merit, tough love, rights don’t impinge other rights, enumerated powers, individual responsibility.

And even with that, there are so many flavors of thought in the GOP:

  • The Ron Paul crowd – basically Libertarians who saw a major party ripe for the picking.  They are largely hardcore civil libertarians, largely without the faintest interest in social conservative issues.
  • Evangelicals – largely social conservatives; they focus (some of them almost to exclusion) on issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research; I’ve met not a few that were hard-core pro-lifers who were wobbly on Second Amendment and even fiscal issues (I’m talking to you, Mike Huckabee).
  • Culture Conservatives – Similar to the Evangelicals, although not always motivated by faith; immigration, gay marriage and the near reaches of social policy motivate them.
  • Fiscal Hawks – These range from Center of the American Experiment policy wonks to Jason Lewis’ hordes of tax hawks.  Many are social conservatives, but it’s no lock.
  • “Reagan” Democrats  – There are not a few moderate DFLers – union members, blue-collar guys and gals, veterans – who are nauseated by some combination of Dems’ policies.
  • Homesteaders – That’s my term for the small, but growing, groups of black Republicans who realize the DFL represents a tragic quackery on education and welfare, and Hispanics who are tired of having their conservative social beliefs piddled on, Asians who recognize the DFL’s threat to free enterprise, African immigrants who’ve already lived through third-world hell and don’t want to see Minnesota even start to flirt with more of the same, and even a few Gay conservatives who are tired of being treated as ripe voting sucks by a party that expects their votes in exchange for not a helluva lot but rhetoric in return.
  • “Moderates” – These people used to control the party; the likes of Lori Sturdevant and Nick Coleman pine for the days when Arne Carlson and Dave Durenberger were the voices of the MNGOP.  They[‘re still out there; the Override Six battle showed they’re still alive,well, and – this is important – a non-trivial force in the party.
  • “Pragmatists”  – Moderate?  Conservative?  Fiscal Hawk?  Opportunist?  They may be a minority in your BPOU caucus, but they’re pretty prominent in the party leadership and, lest we forget, the governor’s mansion.
  • Security Voters – Maybe they remember the joke that was the Democratic Party during the Cold War; maybe they recall the way the Dems giggled and skipped away as the Communists inflicted epic mass murder on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; maybe they’re sick of Minnesota’s catch and release criminal justice system; maybe they still see the Twin Towers burning when they go to the polls.  Whatever; they are Republicans because they see that the Dems are whores on the battlefieldand generals in the bedroom when it comes to security, at home and abroad.
  • The Mitch Berg Bloc – This last bloc, of indeterminate size (from one to thousands; nobody knows for sure) represents people who are fiscal hawks, social libertarians, personal Christians, legal Constitutionalists and who are pragmatic yet absolutist on security.

To make it challenging, remember; without any of these blocs (Homesteaders and the Mitch Bergs might be expendable, sorta), the party will have a very hard time winning.  And that means any bloc; the RINOs, damn the luck, are as important as the fiscal hawks.
So what happens when you put a Taxpayers’ League wonk, a MCCL activist and Ron Paul supporter in a room?

Currently, not much; the pro-lifer calls the other two RINOs on social issues; the wonk calls his roommates RINOs on fiscal issues, and the Paulbot bags on the others’ commitment to small government and liberty.

And they’re all wrong.  And they’re all right.  And it’s no way to run a party, either way.


In the past, I’ve used the metaphor of the “Tug of War” to describe my beliefs about partisan politics.  We live in a pluralistic society; nobody is ever going to convince everyone to believe as they do, to “pull the other side into the mud pit”, to complete the metaphor; the best they can hope for is to convince as many people as possible to join their team to “pull the rope” for their particular issue as far as possible in the direction they want.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean “compromise right out of the gate”; indeed, it means “pull like hell” – to a point.

As a Reagan Conservative – a center-right fiscal conservative and social libertarian – I’ve set my stake in the ground.  I wrote the “True North Manifesto” almost two years ago – and with its six key pillars (Liberty, Prosperity, Security, Limited Government, Culture, Family) it was a pretty decent summation of center-right conservatism as I’ve seen if I say so myself (and I say so myself).  Those are the six ropes I haul on, and try to convince others to join me in pulling for.

But when you run a genuine big tent party, there are many, many of these tugs of war – many of them within the party itself.  What does “limited government” mean to Arne Carlson?  What is “Security” to a Hispanic conservative, a 9/11 Democrat, or a Ron Paul supporter?

The problem is, to get anything of this implemented into policy, you have to win elections, no matter what bloc you belong to.  And with the Minnesota GOP this fragmented, that looks dicey.  But if the GOP isn’t in power, it’s for sure that the DFL is not going to stand for anything we believe in, whether fiscal sanity or law and order or the sanctity of human life.

What’s a party to do?


My friend Andy Applikowki at the blog Residual Forces  – one of my colleagues on the ruling junta at True Northput it well at an editorial meeting a few months back.  Paraphrasing, he said we need, as a party, to put aside the things we disagree on to fight for the things we do agree on.

He’s right, of course.  If you oppose abortion, who is more likely to return your call when she’s in office – a Republican for whom it’s a non-issue, or a Democrat for whom it’s a social sacrament?

It’s a no-brainer; no GOP power, no progress on the things any of us, Paulbots and MCCLers and Jason Lewis fans and, by the way, me, believe in.

So what do all Republicans, from all corners of the party and every place in between, agree on, on a statewide level (meaning “things that state elected officials will ever have to deal with), that we can turn into a winning message?

Hint:  They all tie in with “Freedom” at the root of it all.  But “Freedom” is an ephemeral concept – a great, beautiful one that hundreds of thousands of our forefathers (and brothers and sisters, really) died to protect.  But one of the great political aphorisms is “it’s the economy, stupid”; people think in terms of tangible things that hit them where they live, day in, day out.

And for the Republican voter, and (more importantly) the non-affiliated voter who can be persuaded, there are three of these issues I’m going to suggest:




We’ll address each of these – and why each gives the voter a reason to vote Republican, and why Republicans do have to agree on these – starting Monday.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The Minnesota GOP: Part IV

I’ve been writing for years about the problems I see in the Minnesota Republican Party.  It’s taken years to even start figuring it all out.

How can an organization so chock full of talented, smart, motivated, passionate people find so many clever ways to shoot itself in the foot with flamethrowers?

I used to think it was just a problem with leadership.  And there are problems there; I can’t count the grassroots GOP activists who’ve railed against the feeling that all the real decisionmaking took place in a smoke-filled back room weeks before they showed up at the district or state convention; that debate was tolerated as a ticket-punching exercise rather than a key part of setting party policy.

And there are signs that leadership is a big issue; the state and district GOPs seem paralyzed at the thought of devolving any power outward; they seem to want control at the expense of results.  A great example – the party’s “Voter Vault” voter ID database, which is mandated from the national party, but is reportedly so rife with data integrity and usability issues as to be nearly useless for, y’know, identifying voters.  Having sat in boilerrooms and made countless calls to people who had no idea why they were getting calls from the GOP, I’ll testify.

And control is, I think, the MNGOP’s big issue – but parliamentary procedure and technology are only the barest surface layer of the problem.

Closer to the core of the issue?  The party has a notoriously standoffish attitude toward Minnesota’s big, passionate, thriving center-right blogging community. Oh, there are exceptions; Michael Brodkorb and MDE is a big and important one.

But it seems the party is so fanatical about “controlling its message” that it doesn’t want anyone else to have access to that message.

At lunch with another center-right activist last week, I mentioned this; she responded (just before I would have continued with the same line) “they don’t even know what their message is!”

And therein lies the rub; what is the MNGOP’s message?  What does it stand for?

And that, of course, is where it gets complicated.  The MNGOP is a big-tent party, in which social conservatives, Ron Paul Libertarians, “Moderates” (think Ron Erhard or Arne Carlson), Jason-Lewis’ hordes of tax-hawks, 9/11 Democrats, and inner-city political homesteaders try to duke it out for control in an exercise that, at the moment, looks like Italian parliamentary maneuvering.

How does a party fashion a cohesive message out of this Babel?

More tomorrow.

NOTE: While I welcome all comments, this thread (and the threads in this series) are going to be by, about, and for Minnesota Republicans.  I’ll be a lot less tolerant of tangents than normal.  I reserve the right to edit and excise without notice.  Thanks!

What The Hell Is Wrong With The MNGOP – Part II

One of the most frustrating things about being in the Minnesota GOP is that the factionalism gets downright awful at times.

It’s unavoidable, of course; the GOP is the big tent party in this state, for better or worse.

But Reagan once said that to succeed as a party, we – the good guys who share a big tent, and disagree about a few things here and there – need to focus on the things we agree on -the 80 or so percent of conservative/Republican belief that most of us have in common.

Unfortunately, Minnesota Republicans tend to beat each other to death over the other 20%.

I’m not talking about the Override Six – because hammering out differences in opinion is for the run-up to elections and sessions.  Once your party’s governor has stepped out onto the high wire is no time to untie one of the wire anchors.  Screw the Override Six; two of them retired from politics, two got fumigated at the polls, and here’s hoping the other two get religion.

I am talking about how we hammer out consensus – almost a dirty word, in some GOP circles – among each other and, more importantly, how we proceed forward against the bad guys.  And it’s something we need to wrangle out, because the next time I hear a “conservative” say he’ll never vote for Tim Pawlenty (as good as giving a vote to Mike Hatch or whomever) because he “isn’t a conservative” and ignoring the fact that he has done more to limit government growth and hold the line on taxes than any governor in recent history, I might not be responsible for my actions.
We know the things that separate us:  some of us are spending moderates, others are tax hawks; for some gay marriage and abortion are the biggest issues, and for others they get nodding points; there are ideological purists and political pragmatists.  We are a “big tent”, all right – and that’s not a good thing.  The Democrats are a small tent in that you can be of any race, orientation or class, as long as you believe in redistribution and big government.  We have to satisfy a lot of different demands – or resign ourselves to being like the Independence or Libertarian Parties.

What we need to do is find the things we agree on.  And unite behind those things.

So what are those things?

A long time ago, True North posted our “manifesto“; we focus on:

  • Liberty: lower taxes, less (and more sensible) regulation, and a focus on freedom, whether economic, intellectual or political.
  • Prosperity: the promotion of the freedom of the market to bring the most opportunity to the most people, and the promotion of merit that drives this prosperity.
  • Security: the defense of this nation from enemies abroad, the protection of its citizens from crime and criminals at home, and the security of our borders.
  • Culture: The recognition that America is a melting pot that welcomes newcomers who come with a desire to join in our novel experiment, enjoy freedom, wealth and a brotherhood of common principle, rather than view it as a candy store to be plundered.
  • Limited Government: A government that is focusing on whether you’re smoking or eating Big Macs is a government that has too much time, money and power on its hands.
  • Family: the belief that government needs to uphold, rather than undercut, the basic building block of all healthy societies, the family.

Of course, True North is conservative, rather than Republican – so those are the things that we agree on.

So how about the party at large?  Especially you pragmatists, all you moderates, and those of you who are more motivated by party than ideology?  What do you agree on, to the point where you’d downplay your differences over other points for purposes of presenting a unified party with a positive message the voters?

What, in biblical terms, would it take to make the hawk lie down with the RINO?
No, I don’t expect this thread to drive any discussion in the GOP.  But it’s something the party needs to think about.  Short, positive messages sell – and Reagan showed that that message can be more robust than “yes we can” and still spark the imagination.

Which is what we need to do next year.

Note: Thread is restricted to Republicans – or at least to parties interested in this discussion  Snarks will be expunged sooner than later.

What The Hell Is Wrong With The Minnesota GOP?

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US military was faced with a challenge unlike any they’d faced, ever; how to root out and depose a government that was providing a safe haven for the terrorists that had launched the 9/11 attacks?

Attacking Afghanistan, the mountanous anarchic home of peoples who’d been warring with each other since the Stone Age, dominated by people who put the “war” in “warlord”, was a formidable challenge. In theory, it was all the more so given that in the previous decade the US military had downsized precipitously; of the eighteen ground combat divisions in service at the end of the Cold War scarcely a decade earlier, we were down to ten on 9/11.

Our response? The US Special Forces (the “Green Berets”) airdropped several detachments of soldiers – fewer than 100 men, initially – into Afghanistan, along with some CIA paramilitaries. Using their primary strengths – flexibility, cultural and language skills and a cultivated ability to think outside the box in life-and-death situations – they made contact with the Northern Alliance (the guerrillas, not the radio show), hatched a plan, and went on the offensive. Using weapons both bleeding-edge (laser designators for guiding bombs in from orbiting aircraft, GPS systems, radios) and timeless (exceptional fieldcraft skills, mastery of small-unit tactics, bravery), those 80-odd men, riding horseback, led the Northern Alliance to, over and after the Taliban, routing them to and out of their main strongholds, and toppling their government in weeks – sometimes by bringing in B1s to carpet-bomb Taliban attacks, sometimes leading the Northern Alliance by example, closing in and rooting the Taliban out themselves with rifles and grenades.

One of the keys to this stunning victory? The Special Forces operators had boundless power, right there on the scene. A Master Sergeant with a designator and a radio could call almost directly to the Air Force, orbiting high above in their F16s and B52s and AC130s (and yes, Fingers, the Navy and Marines in their FA18s as well) and get air support on the scene in moments. He did not have to file a request with his headquarters, to be bounced up through higher echelons of approval and then back down the Air Force’s chain of command, hours or days or weeks too late too do any good.

Robert Kaplan in Imperial Grunts, writing three years after the stunning victory, noted that the Special Forces’ approach was not unlike that of a good, bleeding-edge company that decentralized the power – and the decision-making and tools that enabled and supported that power – down and out through the organization. For the liberation of Afghanistan, the military did the unthinkable; pushed power downward from the Pentagon, down from CENTCOM, down from the higher-level headquarters in the ‘Stans, down to the three-man teams of Green Berets and their Air Controllers in the field; it short-circuited layers, and generations, of bureacracy, moving the decision loop down as close to the sergeants in the field, and the pilots in the air, as has ever been done.

Of course, decentralization is a hothouse flower even in lean, limber corporations; in the military – the most hidebound bureaucracy of all (and often for good reason), it was even more so. As the Taliban fell, “Big Army” came in, imposing the bureaucracy and chains of command and all manner of (to the Green Berets’ perspective, as related by Kaplan) impedimenta, including, most disastrously, requirements for multiple levels of approvals and accountability for every mission plan. This (say the Green Berets Kaplan interviewed) bogged down the pursuit of many of the Taliban and Al Quaeda hiding underground, leading us eventually to the situation we have today.

0f course, I’m not here to write about the liberation of Afghanistan. I’m writing about the Minnesota GOP.

But there’s a parallel dynamic at work, here. Empowered, motivated people with the right tools can do the impossible.

The Minnesota GOP is all a-froth in the process of selecting a new chair and leadership. It’s getting ugly out there, with people bagging on the current leadership and their associates, and the current leadership bagging right back.

I’m not going to bag on personalities. This isn’t about personalities (yet). This is about structure.

The GOP is a very top-down organization. Everything from “message” to the tools of the job – databases, voter lists and the like – flow or are mandated from the national office, down through the states, and finally down to the BPOU level.

“Well,that’s as is should be”, the party apologist will say; “the people who show up and work for the party should have the final say on things”.

Which makes sense, sort of. But it also gives conventions from the Congressional District level on up a sense that delegates are spectators at the Central Committee’s event -that all the real decisions were made months before. And when you live in a district that hasn’t put any winners on the board in years, it’s not hard to think maybe it’s time for new decision-makers.

Which we got, to an extent, last spring, as the Ron Paul candidacy sent ripples of panic through the MNGOP leadership. Make no mistake – Ron Paul is a nutcase. But his followers – at least the ones that weren’t awash in 9/11 truthiness and rambling on about Trans-American Freeways for hours on end – brought something to GOP caucuses and convos that they’ve needed for years; the sense that parts of the event were unscripted. Time will tell if the Ronulans will stick around the caucuses. I hope they do – which isn’t to say I’m not going to try to talk them into keeping the libertarian-conservative principles, but ditching Paul himself.

The GOP, nationwide and in Minnesota, needs to learn from its mistakes, to decentralize its thinking, and most of all get better at doing its job.

It needs to reward initiative; it needs to seek out, reward, cultivate and channel ideas and energy that come from outside the party’s bureaucracy, rather than getting paranoid about them.

Being this state’s genuine big tent party, it needs to come up with a way to get its message out, without turning on and eating carriers of other messages. It needs to focus on the parts the party agrees on, rather than ripping itself to shreds over the things it doesn’t.

And on the other hand, I say this as a fire-breathing Reagan conservative; it’s time for conservatives to grow up and play the damn game. The Ron Paul phenomenon can teach us all one thing; for decades, Libertarians sat with their feet firmly in the clouds and declaimed from a position of absolute ideological purity. Finally, they wised up, got into the game, organized, played to their strengths (and the MNGOP’s weaknesses) and came withing a trice of taking over the party’s agenda. Minnesota’s conservatives did the opposite, turning out in droves for the state caucuses and getting Mitt Romney endorsed, but then taking their toys and going home. They were underwhelmed with John McCain, Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty; their fit of pique helped doom the party in the last eletion cycle, and weakened the state and the nation. And in so doing, Minnesota’s conservatives weakened themselves and their cause, making Minnesota conservatives look like flighty, temperamental prima-donnas. Gary Gross calls this pathology out in one of the most timely political posts of the year so far. Politics, down to the root of the word itself, is about compromise; the art is in making the compromise as favorable to you as possible.

The Minnesota GOP faces yet another difficult situation in the next two years. And it’s a battle we have to win, because the stakes are this state’s future and the well-being of the nation itself. The DFL is the party of instant gratification, of taxing and spending and the tyranny of institutional compassion. This state needs a viable opposition like Afghanistan needed dead Taliban.

And Minnesota Republicans should take courage – and knowledge – from that lesson; empowered, motivated people with the right tools can do the impossible.

What does that mean for the GOP? We’ll talk about that in the coming weeks.

[NOTE: While this blog is as a general rule an untrammeled free-speech zone, this particular comment thread is mainly for Republicans talking about the future of the GOP in Minnesota and elsewhere. Non-Republican posts, especially snarks, are likely to get lost down the memory hole. Non-Republican snarkers are a free as ever to romp and play elsewhere on this site; this thread is for the grownups.]