Luther Strange isn’t the only current US Senator on his way out the door. In a few days, Al Franken will submit his resignation as promised last week, and Tina Smith will take his seat at least until a special election in November chooses his successor. As it turns out, Minnesota voters aren’t entirely happy about Franken’s resignation — and half of them want Franken to renege on his pledge to resign, according to a new PPP poll:
-50% of voters think he should not resign, to only 42% who think he should go through with his planned resignation. There is little appetite from Democratic voters at the state level for Franken to go, with 71% opposing his departure. A majority of independents- 52%- as well think he should not resign, with just 41% favoring his exit.
-Franken remains well above average in popularity for a Senator, with 53% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 42% who disapprove. PPP rarely finds Senators with majority approval in their home states. Franken’s continued popularity is being driven especially by women. 57% of them like the job he’s doing to 37% who don’t. By contrast Donald Trump stands at 40/58 with women in the state.
-Minnesotans don’t like how the process with Franken’s resignation has played out. 60% think the Senate Ethics Committee should have completed its investigation (including 79% of Democrats and 61% of independents) before any decision was made about Franken’s future, while only 35% think he should resign immediately. Beyond that 76% of Minnesota voters think their voices should have been more important in determining whether Franken stayed in the Senate or not, to only 12% who think that should have been determined more by his fellow Senators in Washington.
Interestingly, the gender difference on the due-process question is almost within the margin of error, and what difference there was might surprise some people. Women were more likely to support a Senate Ethics probe than resignation (62%) than men (59%), and significantly fewer support his immediate resignation (31% as opposed to 39% of men). The gender difference on electoral accountability was even less significant; women thought that voters should have had the opportunity to make the final decision on Franken 75/12, with men at a virtually identical 78/12.
But would Minnesotans have “fired” Franken if they had the chance? If PPP’s survey is accurate, almost assuredly not. Even after that terrible photograph of Franken and Leeann Tweeden went viral, Franken’s approval rating remains in positive territory. As noted above, he’s seen even more positively by women than men. In three years, that photograph would have been shrugged off as old news, with a New And Improved Feminist Franken ready to seek justice for All Women. His continued presence would have given Republicans a stick with which to beat Democrats in 2018 and 2020, but it would have been difficult for the GOP to “Akinize” Franken while simultaneously defending Donald Trump.
In other words, Democrats badly overreacted to a perceived political problem by forcing Franken to quit. It won’t cost them much, electorally speaking; Democrats will likely hold the seat in 2018 unless Republicans make a concerted effort to find a candidate who can successfully compete statewide, which they haven’t done in a dozen years for any office. It might cost Democrats some cash and a 2018 distraction, neither of which they can afford, plus some credibility when it comes to due process over hysterics. Had they just stood pat, the political crisis might well have passed after Doug Jones’ election in Alabama and a rational approach to due process and accountability could have been developed. Now, however, Democrats on Capitol Hill have drawn a nonsensical “zero tolerance” line in the sand that will come back to bite them repeatedly over the next few years.
With all of this known now, will Franken still resign? Almost certainly, although he could renege at any time. Despite getting back-stabbed by his colleagues with a coordinated effort to shove him under the bus, Franken seems determined to be a team player and get out of the way as quickly and quietly as possible. And after the events of the last few weeks, who can blame him?