Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Loss Leaders

Following up on Laettner’s Lament, update on the Minnesota Republican party endorsers.  First Norm Coleman, steadfast supporter of Lindsey Graham Jeb Bush Marco Rubio.  I hope he took some pride in Rubio’s victory in the recent Minnesota caucus, because if current polls are to be believed, he may have to apply his ballot box Midas touch to a fourth candidate in short order.

If Donald Trump continues to be the front runner, Coleman may to tap a fifth candidate before all is send and done.   Because we may not know who Norm Coleman will ultimately support in this primary contest, we definitely know who he will not support.   He’s a #NeverTrumpeter.  From his editorial in the Star Tribune:

I won't vote for Donald Trump.  I won't vote for Donald Trump because of who he isn't.  He isn't a Republican. He isn't a conservative. He isn't a truth teller.  He's not a uniter. Donald Trump isn't the leader America needs after eight years of a president who deliberately divided us and fanned the flames of racial and socioeconomic strife — and, by doing so, diminished America's standing in the world. 
I also won't vote for Donald Trump because of who he is.  A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully.

The obvious first reaction to this is to check the lyrics to “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, to do a plagiarism check with Coleman’s snappy last line.   It’s a close call, but I’m absolving him (for now).  Although Coleman’s variation would make for a good Trump campaign song:

I've been a bigot, a bully, a misogynist, a fraud, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

The second reaction is to note that Coleman thinks people care about who he plans to vote for and why.  You don’t write something that pretentious without the pretense of thinking it means something important.  Arguably, there was a time when Norm Coleman could be considered to be an opinion leader for Minnesotans.  He did received the approval of a bare majority of Minnesotans who happened to vote in an election … 14 years ago.  But that was book-ended by losses to Jesse Ventura (where Norm Coleman was preferred by 34% of voting Minnesotans) and to Al Franken (when he received 42% of the vote).  Not exactly Ronald Reagan landslide leadership levels there.
Coleman is 1 - 2 in statewide elections, receiving a high of 50% of the vote in 2002.  Is that the best Minnesota Republicans can do for an influential opinion leader within the party?

According to my analysis – no.  In fact, Coleman is currently the 10th most influential endorser available to the Republican Party.

The table below shows all Republican candidates for statewide offices since 1970:  Governor, US Senator, Auditor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General.  (Not included in this analysis are Lt. Governor – which is subsidiary to the gubernatorial candidate since merging as an electoral pair in 1974 or State Treasurer, a constitutional office abolished by amendment in 2003.)

Candidates are ranked, in order, by:  Winning percentage, number of wins, highest % of general election vote, and winning streak.   Unranked individuals (shaded cells) are known to be deceased.

(Click table to enlarge)

Earlier I noted about the presence of so many election losers present in the MN establishment Republican attempt to squash Trump:

The traditional “The Party Decides” model assumes prominent endorsements play an outsized role in picking eventual winners.   But decades of loss chokes off the supply of prominent, influential endorsers …. for Minnesota Republicans, that model is broken. 

The table above provides the evidence.  Of these 42 statewide candidates, nearly two-thirds (64%) were one and done, losing in their one and only appearance on the statewide ballot.  Only 6 (14%) have won more statewide elections than they lost.  And only 4 (10%) have winning records and ever earned at least 50% of the popular vote.   A visualization of this data:

(Click chart to enlarge)

The lonely triangles at the bottom of the chart are the cannon fodder served up to the likes of DFL'ers Joan Growe (6-1), Skip Humphrey (4-2), Mark Dayton (4-1), Lori Swanson (3-0), Rebecca Otto (3-0), Warren Spannaus (3-0), et al over the past half century. 
Bobbing their heads above the waterline at the top are the four broadly popular winners the MN GOP have offer since 1970:  Arne Carlson, Dave Durenberger, Judi Dutcher, and Al Quie.

Yes, it’s been a while (the 1990s) since any of these candidates were scoring their victories.  But these people are all still out there, and Minnesotans have long memories.  Why not wake up the echoes and bring these champions back to herald a new era of success for the MN Republican party?

Oh yeah, that’s right, they all became Democrats.   

One of the four officially became a Democrat.  The most recent Republican 50%+ statewide winner, Judi Dutcher, switched parties in 2000 and ran for Lieutenant Governor on the DFL ticket in 2006 (when she and Mike Hatch narrowly lost to Tim Pawlenty and Carol Molnau, 47%-46%). 

By this analysis, Arne Carlson is by far the most popular/influential available Republican, going 5-0 in statewide elections and topping out with 63% of the popular vote in his last election (1994 gubernatorial race).   If any state Republican had the potential to lead opinion, it would be him.  And I’m sure state Republicans would have reached out for him, except for the complicating matters of Carlson endorsing Barack Obama for President in 2008, endorsing an Independent candidate for MN governor and endorsing a Democrat for Congress in CD-1 (instead of GOP endorsed candidates Tom Emmer and Randy Demmer) in 2010, and in 2012 endorsing a Democrat for Congress in CD-6 (over Michele Bachmann).  Although Carlson assures us he still considers himself a Republican.

Dave Durenberger is the only other Republican winning statewide races 3 or more times since 1970, and also topping 60% of the popular vote (in his 1978 US Senate race).  He’s also had a Carlson like post-election career, tacitly endorsing Obama, refusing to endorse Tom Emmer for Governor, and regularly engaging in rhetoric like:

The Republican Party has made a virtue of extremism. It has done so with plenty of help from the old Confederacy, the religious right, the counter-culture hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Brooks' "Bobos in Paradise", who move to the exurbs seeking a world that looks just like them. The list's a long one.

And, curiously, still considers himself a Republican.  A Minnesota Republican.

Finally, Al Quie, a one-and-done statewide candidate, but going out a winner, with 52% support in the 1978 race for MN Governor. Certainly silent Al has been able to hold the Republican banner high without any controversies to strain the perceived loyalty to his party?  Actually, no. Quie got caught up in the great exodus from Tom Emmer as well in 2010, endorsing independent Tom Horner.  

In fact, Quie joined Durenberger and Carlson on MN GOP double secret probation after the Emmer-Horner imbroglio, getting banned from all party activities for 2 years.  Quoth Quie:

“The Republican party is trying to become ... you would call it introverted totalitarianism,” said former congressman and Gov. Al Quie, a onetime vice presidential prospect who plans to stick with the party despite the penalty. “It’s just plain dumb on their part. ... In the long run, if the party persists with this, [it's] going to just become smaller and smaller and eventually something else would come in its place.”

So you can see why the MN Republican party cannot produce influential endorsers or opinion leaders.  Their popular winners from the previous political generation are party pariahs. And their current popular winners?  Referring to that chart above, that big, white expanse in the upper right quadrant are where the popular winners would have been since about 1998, and there’s nobody there.

At the time of the Carlson, Durenberger, Quie purge, then MN GOP Chairman Tony Sutton stated:

“I think a lot of these people are not relevant politically,” Sutton said. “They represent a bygone era, sort of the era of the 'country club Republican' -– when we weren’t opposed to Big Government; we just said we could manage it better. This is [now] sort of the Reagan Era of the Republican Party.” 
“It’s funny, we’ve had more success since we moved away from a lot of these folks,” he added. “You can argue we’ve become more successful as we’ve become truer to our principles.”

You could argue that, if your definition of success, and political relevance, was something other than convincing 50% or more of Minnesotans to vote for you.