Minnesota Republicans will meet for a virtual state convention this weekend to endorse candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House and to approve a party platform. Over the past half century, we have been to more of these state conventions than we might care to count. We won’t be participants this year, though — and not just because we weren’t invited.
Minnesota Republicans face a dilemma of both policy and politics. The politics first:
While the GOP continues to do well in local races in rural Minnesota, its statewide appeal has vanished. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the past 24 years, Republicans have won only three of 15 races for governor or U.S. senator. That’s quite a swing from the pre-Tea Party, pre-anti-government Republican Party of Minnesota.
Between 1978, when one of the authors of this commentary was elected to the Senate, and 1994, when Arne Carlson won his second term as governor, Republicans won two-thirds of the races for governor and U.S. Senate.
Today, the GOP increasingly is being written out of the state’s future. It isn’t competitive in the urban centers and first-ring suburbs, and it is barely holding on in second- and third-ring communities. The largest and fastest-growing blocs of voters in the state more and more see the GOP as noncompetitive.
At best, the party’s role now is to control a portion of state government and be the brakes on the DFL Party. Today it’s the state Senate, but will that still be true after the 2020 census documents the continuing population shift to the metro area?
And that brings us to the party’s policy problem. At the end of World War II, Minnesota was in the lower tier of wealth among the nation’s states. In less than three decades, Minnesota earned the reputation as “the state that works.”
Yes, it was DFL Gov. Wendy Anderson who appeared on the 1973 cover of Time magazine promoting “The Good Life In Minnesota” — but Republican ideas and innovation built much of the foundation, leading the way on everything from environmental protection to creating the state’s first human-rights department, from tax reform to government reform.
The Minnesota Republican Party was based back then on core values that put government in service to support and promote the incredible innovation and energy of Minnesotans, their businesses, and our philanthropic and faith communities. The GOP recognized that government’s role should be limited but not missing in action. It should be a partner with individuals and families at the times in our lives when we are vulnerable.
And, government should be transparent in words and actions. “Draining the swamp” is an insult to voters when it’s accompanied by ethical abuses piled on corrupt and self-serving policies.
Those values have given way to blind allegiance to a president who has abandoned nearly every core principle that once defined the GOP. We believe that the re-election of Donald Trump would be disastrous for the country and ruinous for the Republican Party. For us, there is a positive alternative in Joe Biden and a vehicle for our support, the Lincoln Project (lincolnproject.us).
Biden isn’t an “anyone-but-Trump” alternative. He is a positive choice to restore integrity and decency to the White House. Certainly, there are policy areas where we part ways with Biden and, like all of us, Biden has his personal flaws. But more than anything else, we believe he has the ability and commitment to rebuild trust between government and the people it serves. And nothing is more important to good government than the confidence of the governed.
The Lincoln Project, created by Republicans who are dismayed at what has become of our party, isn’t a group of disaffected outsiders. Quite the contrary. Those who are coming to the Lincoln Project to support Biden have made the nonpartisan decision to put country first. As the mission of the group states, “Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.” We agree.
Even as we work to defeat Trump, we hope that the Minnesota Republican Party will find its way back to its ethical and moral roots. We want a strong GOP in Minnesota, and we will continue to offer conservative policy proposals and support Republican candidates who are in the mold of those who in the past not only made the GOP the state’s dominant party but made Minnesota a dominant state.
So, sincere best wishes to those Republicans meeting online for their convention. We still count many of you as friends. And as friends, we offer our sincere hope that you will avoid the coronavirus that threatens us all and rise above the illness that afflicts our party.
Dave Durenberger is a former U.S. senator from Minnesota. Tom Horner is a public-relations executive who was the Independence Party candidate for governor in 2010.