Can Donald Trump strike gold in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? The president will lead a rally in Duluth later this evening, the first Trump rally in a state he lost since the 2016 election. He didn’t lose by much, though, coming within 45,000 votes of Hillary Clinton in a state that last went Republican when Richard Nixon ran for re-election nearly fifty years ago. Politico reports that Trump thinks he made a mistake for not trying harder in Minnesota two years ago:
The last Republican presidential candidate to win Minnesota was Richard Nixon nearly a half century ago, sweeping the famously populist state on his way to one of the largest landslides in U.S. history.
Now, President Donald Trump, who finished fewer than 45,000 votes behind Hillary Clinton in Minnesota despite a threadbare effort that saw him visit the state only once, is intent on mining an urban-rural divide to capture the state in 2020.
It’s an ambitious expansion of the electoral map but Trump last summer confided to aides and state GOP officials in an Oval Office meeting that he regretted not campaigning more aggressively in Minnesota, suggesting he would have won had he held a second rally there. In the months since, Republicans have come to see the state Democratic Party’s increasing embrace of liberal candidates and policies as an opening for them to attract voters from rural, outstate districts who may be pro-union, and support abortion or gun rights.
Er, maaaaybe. Minnesota has fewer Electoral College votes than Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, so it’s easy to chalk up Team Trump’s prioritization as simply a pragmatic calculation. (Besides which, it worked.) Between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the latter was much more likely to flip. Given the limited amount of time and resources, and the fact that Hillary Clinton inexplicably paid more attention to Minnesota than Wisconsin, he made the right choice.
Can Trump win Minnesota in 2020? I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it, but let’s remember the confluence of circumstances that brought him within 1.5 points of victory in 2016. Hillary Clinton was a uniquely poor campaigner, one who not only focused nearly entirely on her own entitlement to the job but also went out of her way to insult millions of voters. On top of that, rather than learn from Barack Obama’s groundbreaking grassroots campaigns, she ended up running the Mitt Romney 30,000-foot messaging strategy and ignored any data outside their own constructs.
It’s possible that Democrats could find a worse candidate, or an equally bad one, to run against Trump in 2020. I wouldn’t bet against that either, but the odds aren’t terribly good for that outcome. If Democrats run a reasonably competent candidate that doesn’t go out of his/her way to insult people outside the urban-core power base of their party, then Minnesota might be a long shot — and for that matter, so might Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It becomes a matter of prioritization again, and it seems foolish to bet on a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office in a dozen years.
That may be what Trump hopes to change by coming to Duluth, however. Either that or he’s here to make sure one Republican doesn’t get the chance:
Trump celebrated on Twitter last week after South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who repeatedly criticized the president, lost a Republican primary. Trump took another dig at Sanford Tuesday night during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, eliciting boos from some in the room, several in attendance said.
A similar script is materializing in Minnesota’s race to replace outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton. Few Republicans have criticized Trump more strongly than former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is seeking his old job.
In 2016, Pawlenty said Trump was “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States” in the days after a recording of the presidential candidate making vulgar comments about women surfaced. After launching his campaign in April, Pawlenty said he still voted for Trump in 2016 and supports the president’s policies.
Jeff Johnson, the state GOP’s endorsed candidate for governor, has been stronger in his support of the president. He and his allies have portrayed himself as more in tune with the party’s base and say Pawlenty — who holds a huge fundraising advantage — should be disqualified for his criticism of Trump.
Johnson plans to attend the rally. Having fallen far behind Pawlenty on fundraising, he certainly would love a boost from the president, although he told the AP that he doesn’t expect it. If Trump still bears a grudge, there’s a very good chance we’ll hear about it at the rally tonight, and that could shake up the gubernatorial race.
Otherwise, though, Trump will mainly talk about Stauber, perhaps also about Dave Hughes in MN-07, and his trade and energy policies:
Trump’s visit was billed as a chance for him to talk about the local impacts of his trade policies. It’s the Republican’s first visit to Minnesota since he was elected; in addition to the rally, he is scheduled to talk with a small group of miners, steel workers and local politicians, including Eighth Congressional District candidate Pete Stauber, in a roundtable setting. …
But even before Trump’s arrival, Stauber was capitalizing on the visit as a way to bolster financial support.
“Have you chipped in to support our campaign and show President Trump we can turn the 8th District red? He’s going to ask how fundraising is going when he sees me, and I want to be able to say you’re standing with us,” Stauber said in a fundraising e-mail sent to supporters Tuesday.
The other big question will be whether Trump will make it over one state to the west in support of Kevin Cramer’s bid to unseat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota’s Senate race. That one is there for the winning, except that Trump seems to be taking it easy on a very vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Trump won’t visit North Dakota on this trip, and Cramer has to be wondering just when the man who recruited him will bring the rally show to his own back yard.