Mike Lindell drew on a cast of about a dozen employees — some of them family — all gathered at his MyPillow warehouse in Shakopee on a recent morning to help pack and label freshly signed copies of his new autobiography.
Seated nearby was his 29-year-old son, Darren, newly minted as the company’s next chief operating officer, Lindell explained, suggesting a change of plans in the near future.
“In case we do anything political, we’re setting up the stage,” Lindell said, pausing to make sure his statement was on the record.
More than two years after brushing aside speculation that he was eyeing a run for office, the 58-year-old mustachioed infomercial maven is becoming less coy about his political future amid renewed calls from state Republicans that he help reverse a long string of defeats in statewide races. Along the way, he has become President Donald Trump’s highest-profile backer in Minnesota and openly inviting speculation about his own political ambition.
A former crack cocaine addict, Lindell is now readying a series of rallies across the state that will blend his new faith-based Lindell Recovery Network while also promoting both the president’s re-election bid and Minnesota Republican congressional candidates.
Recruited last year as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Lindell has instead emerged as a possible 2022 opponent to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. In 2017 he brushed off speculation of a run, but Lindell now is keeping the door wide open.
For now, the self-proclaimed “honorary chair” of the Trump campaign in Minnesota is setting his sights on trying to help a GOP presidential candidate win Minnesota for the first time since 1972. He’s also supporting candidates like Jason Lewis, Smith’s GOP challenger. But the prospect of a candidate with a redemption story and name ID to match has some Republicans salivating over Lindell’s chances to return the governor’s office to the GOP in two years.
“I think it’s something we’ve never had on the Republican side in Minnesota and I think it’s a huge asset we need to use,” said Billy Grant, a Republican strategist. “We’ve been beaten down from a string of statewide defeats. If a guy like Mike Lindell can bring the passion of thousands of people into the fold, we need to use it.”
Lindell was an early supporter of Trump’s bid for president. Their August 2016 Trump Tower meeting was something the MyPillow inventor envisioned in a “very weird, very vivid dream” — as he described it in his new book. He writes that the actual meeting was punctuated by a visit from Rudy Giuliani, now Trump’s personal lawyer, who greeted Lindell with a rendition of his MyPillow jingle.
More recently, Lindell was celebrating New Year’s Eve at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, rubbing elbows with the president’s family and key Republican figures such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Bill Barr.
“I’m even more all in,” Lindell said of his support for Trump. “Just because I know it is so important.”
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin criticized Lindell for praising Trump’s tax cut package and then laying off more than 100 workers at his Shakopee facility last May as he pivoted to a new online venture.
“Mike Lindell got Donald Trump elected, received a massive tax cut in return, and months later laid off 150 Minnesotans,” Martin said. “This guy is the opposite of Minnesota values. Minnesotans are not going to let him buy his way into office.”
Lindell acknowledged enjoying more “fame” and an expanded platform thanks to his relationship with the president, something he says has not cost him business.
“I realize now coming out of addiction years ago now, coming up on my anniversary, how important politics are to our daily lives,” Lindell said.
He also prides himself on predicting the Trump presidency, when even many Republicans viewed the possibility as far-fetched.
“He definitely saw that one coming,” said Amy Koch, a former Minnesota Senate majority leader and now a GOP operative. “I think he recognized that early on. He at least has an eye for where the electorate is at.”
Lindell likes to say that before meeting Trump, he had little concept of American politics, to the point where he couldn’t distinguish a conservative from a liberal. Lindell’s political support today heavily favors Republicans, but he insists that his Christian values dictate where he lands on a candidate or issue.
Lindell invested about $1 million in the 2018 anti-abortion film “Unplanned” and always wears a cross necklace. A cross is also on display on the spine of his new book, “What Are The Odds? From Crack Addict To CEO.” It includes a foreword written by Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Lindell is telling those courting him to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2022 that he will do so “if I get it in prayer to run.” He’s also working with a legal team that includes former GOP attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow to study what changes he would need to make to his marketing if he became a political candidate. What makes Lindell a compelling candidate also is vital to his product’s marketing: His face has been on television nearly 3 million times.
Koch said that if Lindell can self-fund, that and his name recognition would make him a “dream candidate.” His net worth has been estimated around $300 million. Another part of the calculus would be his outsider status as a candidate — something that helped propel Trump to the White House.
“People are so tired of the talking points and the politicians that are so inauthentic,” Koch said. “If Mike Lindell is authentically himself — he’s a business guy who can come in and say things politicians do not normally say — if people believe in him, I think there is absolutely an opportunity for him.”
It’s still early in the campaign cycle, but other possible GOP candidates generating buzz among activists include Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka from Nisswa and state Sen. Karin Housley, who lost a statewide U.S. Senate race to Democrat Tina Smith.
While the MyPillow inventor’s political appeal appears tied to the president, Trump won’t be on the ballot in 2022 and might not even be in the Oval Office.
David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor, said Trump’s performance in 2020 could be a bellwether for Lindell’s political prospects in Minnesota in 2022.
“He’s a business person, he’s an outsider and in many ways he’s a Trump-like figure,” Schultz said of Lindell. “Perhaps in a state that elected a generation ago a Jesse Ventura, a state that almost put Donald Trump over the top … [Lindell] bears enough characteristics that might make you think that maybe he’s got those elements there that make him an attractive statewide candidate for governor.”
Lindell also sees Trump as a model.
“Donald Trump proved you need a businessman to run things, not just someone who is a career politician,” Lindell said. “I’m sorry, but to me what do they know?”
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor