Heart-ache: Franken rules out 2020 challenge to Trump

Why not? He’s tanned, he’s rested, and doggone it, people like him. Well, enough do in Minnesota to have gotten him re-elected in 2014 by a ten-point margin over Republican Mike McFadden, anyway, and that’s good enough for Al Franken. The two-term Senator has had his name mentioned as a potential Democratic challenger to Donald Trump in 2020, but Franken and his family want nothing to do with a presidential election, they told People:


In at-home interviews for this week’s issue of PEOPLE (on newsstands Friday), the Franken family was unusually definitive in shutting down this spring’s buzz about Al, 66 and a former writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, being a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. …

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that,” says Franken.

“It’s not going to happen,” adds his daughter, Thomasin, 36.

The senator’s wife, Franni, puts it most simply: “No.”

Oh, come on. Just think of the wittiness — and the pomposity — we’ll miss without Franken in the race. A page from his new book Giant of the Senate captures the extent of both qualities in Franken, as well as his outsize ego:

On the other hand, those qualities could have made him a perfect match for Trump, too. Maybe Republicans did dodge a bullet.

More seriously, Franken won’t expand the map for Democrats even if he did make it to the nomination. His appeal is strictly in the same urban cores and college campuses where Hillary Clinton dominated, but Franken won’t play well anywhere else. As that anecdote makes clear, Franken tends to think he’s funnier than he actually is. Ironically, he and Ted Cruz share one issue in their humor — neither are particularly good at self-deprecation, aiming outward rather than inward too much for their humor to be an asset. With the rise of Trump, though, perhaps that’s less of a handicap than it used to be.


Democrats need someone with credibility in the heartland, though, and Franken’s not the right candidate. He’ll run again for the Senate here in Minnesota, and he’ll probably win even in a presidential election cycle. Trump made it much closer here than expected, coming within two points of taking the state from Hillary, but midterm cycles are somewhat different. The state GOP is still climbing out of its deep hole, financially and organizationally, and lack a candidate with enough standing statewide to win, at least at the moment. The last Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota was Tim Pawlenty in 2006, even though Republicans have won control of the legislature twice since then.

Speaking of Pawlenty, there’s been buzz in political circles that he’s interested in coming back to politics. The Star Tribune noted it in a profile three weeks ago, although it’s mostly centered on the upcoming gubernatorial race:

Pawlenty’s successor, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, is not running again next year, and the field of possible Republican candidates is still a work in progress. Pawlenty has said nothing publicly to encourage speculation he would run again, but his strong name recognition, established political network and potential to raise millions from his Wall Street Rolodex would instantly vault him to the front ranks. Even the remote possibility he would run again is a popular topic of speculation by insiders of both political parties. …

Charlie Weaver, the executive director of the Business Partnership and Pawlenty’s first gubernatorial chief of staff, said the former governor would be a formidable candidate if he were to run in 2018. He called him the “Republican Amy Klobuchar,” referring to the DFL’s broadly popular U.S. senator (in his two statewide bids, Pawlenty never approached Klobuchar’s winning margins).

Weaver acknowledged that since Pawlenty left public life after a failed 2012 run for president, politics has changed considerably, culminating in the election of President Donald Trump.

“I would argue that’s why he would be more attractive,” Weaver said. “A couple of years of Trump will make people eager for someone with a record of getting things done who is optimistic and hopeful and can work across the aisle.”


Minnesota does not have term limits for its chief executive position, so Pawlenty’s certainly eligible for another run at his old office. The GOP might want to consider him as a challenger to Franken two years later, though, as he’d be the only Minnesota Republican able to project the fight onto the national stage with his presence.

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John Stossel 12:40 AM | April 12, 2024