The political malpractice of the 2022 election

If you followed my analysis and commentary on Twitter during the election cycle, you know I’ve had many strong opinions about what I thought was going right and what I thought went wrong.

Let me begin with a reminder that I endorsed DFL-incumbent Governor Tim Walz, DFL-incumbent Secretary of State Steve Simon, Republican challenger Jim Schultz for attorney general, and Republican challenger Ryan Wilson for state auditor. In each of my posts, I explained why I endorsed these candidates.

As in previous elections this past decade, I voted for a split ticket. I still consider myself a Republican, but I think of myself as “politically homeless” because I don’t feel at home or even comfortable inside the Republican Party of today. My evolution in voting has created friction and tension between myself and my more partisan Republican friends.

I don’t vote based on party labels but on the candidate’s qualities. Unlike my past voting behavior, which was robotic and partisan, I have spent the last decade taking a more thoughtful and deliberative approach to voting.

I am not paid for my analysis and commentary, and whom I decide to vote for is based on several factors, but again, the party label is not the top factor. I do not believe that people were influenced by my endorsements or by which candidate earned my vote. Again, explaining how I voted will add more depth to my analysis and commentary. People will be able to compare my votes with my take on politics. I have opinions and beliefs, and rather than foolishly submitting a blank ballot or hiding how I vote, I am choosing to be transparent and honest.

I will also add that disclosing my voting evolution and philosophy will reduce opportunities for me to be quoted as a “Republican” by media outlets. My political views do not reflect today’s Republican Party, but I am a Republican.

I have enjoyed providing analysis and commentary about politics and elections. One of the reasons I’ve continued doing this is how I gather information to shape my analysis and commentary by listening to intelligent people. I remind myself daily that I’m not a wise man; I know many smart people.

When I speak with people, I like to ask open-ended questions, such as:

  • What are you hearing and seeing?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What should I know?
  • On Election Day, I ask what areas of the state they are watching for key results or trends.

After asking these questions, I listen. My analysis isn’t what I want to happen – it’s what I’ve learned is happening. I then take what I’ve learned and provide commentary based on my experience and perspective. The most important part of the analysis and commentary is listening and learning from intelligent people.

My inquisitive approach surprises people when they first meet me. People assume I like hearing the sound of my voice when in reality, I enjoy listening and having open conversations. The people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, and what I’ve learned from others about Minnesota elections and politics are why I enjoy providing analysis and commentary.

But there was resistance this election – sometimes very ugly – to thoughtful and informed analysis and commentary. Candidates, campaign advisors, and even members of the media aggressively and unreasonably pushed back on analysis and commentary that – when all the ballots were counted – accurately reflected the results of the election.

The working title of this post was “I TOLD YOU SO,” but I wanted to take a less boastful and arrogant approach.

The political malpractice of the Jensen – Birk campaign

Republicans’ chances to win statewide races ended when Scott Jensen and Matt Birk won the endorsement for governor at the Minnesota State Convention in May. After Jensen and Birk were endorsed, I congratulated Governor Tim Walz for winning his re-election – 178 days before Election Day.

Months before I called the election for Walz, I used three letters to describe the candidacy of Jensen: DOA. My early – but accurate prediction – that Jensen was dead on arrival with the voters in a campaign versus Walz triggered a phone call from an advisor to Jensen’s campaign.

In a phone conversation I will never forget, I explained why I believed Jensen – with well-founded examples – was a poor candidate who was being advised by an inexperienced and unprofessional campaign. In response to my criticism, I was told that Jensen’s online engagement was “unprecedented” and female voters would vote heavily back Jensen over Walz. Finally, I was told that due to my age (48), I didn’t understand how “modern” campaigns were run. I laughed, politely ended the call, and never spoke with this advisor again.

My limited direct experience with Jensen’s campaign wasn’t unusual. Throughout the campaign, I heard story upon story of Jensen and his staff ignoring the advice and counsel from seasoned and respected campaign professionals and former elected officials.

To salvage Jensen’s campaign, a team of experienced campaign strategists tried during the final weeks to undo the damage caused by Jensen and his staff in the preceding months. But the damage was too much; as I had predicted over a year earlier, Jensen’s campaign was DOA – dead on arrival – against Governor Walz.

The truth is that the Jensen-Birk campaign wasn’t an actual political campaign – it was a cult of personality and a Potemkin village that exploded like the Hindenburg on Election Day. As the candidates, Jensen and Birk deserve their fair share of the blame for their electoral failure. But the rest of the responsibility for creating and empowering these monstrous candidates is the unqualified staff and inexperienced advisors inside the Jensen-Birk campaign. Like Victor Frankenstein, they toyed with a power greater than they understood and created candidates roaming the countryside, leaving mayhem and damaging their paths.

Rather than running a campaign focused on inflation, public safety, and education, the Jensen-Birk campaign was tripped up by self-created controversies such as furries and litter boxes, COVID-19 comparisons to the Third Reich, and the imprisonment of Secretary of State Steve Simon.

The Jensen-Birk campaign was, in my experience, the most remarkable political fraud ever perpetrated on the voters of Minnesota. It was never a viable or credible campaign operation. It will go down in history as the most damaging, undisciplined, and reckless campaign in modern political history.

Here is the best data point to back up my analysis and commentary: more people voted for Kim Crockett than for Jensen and Birk.

The Jensen-Birk campaign was political malpractice at the highest level, costing Republicans the best opportunity to win statewide since 2006. The stunning incompetence made the ability of Jim Schultz and Ryan Wilson to win their races impossible. The separate campaigns of Schultz and Wilson did everything they could to win. It is not overly simplistic to blame their losses on the nearly weekly missteps and mistakes from the Jensen-Birk campaign and aim Crockett’s candidacy.

Jensen, Birk, and Crockett poisoned the political environment for Republicans for statewide candidates like Schultz and Wilson and legislative candidates throughout Minnesota.

The resistance to informed analysis and commentary and the embrace of ignorance  

I am a lifelong and passionate fan of the Minnesota Vikings. Like most fans, I have a complicated relationship with the Vikings. I love them one moment while being frustrated and angry moments later. This cycle has repeated in some form my entire life. I enjoy reading and listening to analysis and commentary about the Vikings. If the Vikings lose, the analysis and commentary are brutally honest. Even if the Vikings win, you will hear blunt criticism and suggestions for improving the team. But nobody ever questions the motives of the experts providing post-game commentary and the fans that flood the phone lines to give their opinions on how the Vikings won or lost.

I am a Republican. I have a complicated relationship with the Republican Party, similar to my relationship with the Vikings. I want to see the Republican Party succeed, but as I noted above, I don’t feel at home or comfortable inside the Republican Party of today. I’m no different than a fan of the Vikings that wants to see the team succeed by doing better. But politics isn’t football, and politicians aren’t football players. Candidates and politicians impact our daily lives more than a football team. I won’t cheer against the Vikings, but I will vote for a Democrat if I believe they’re more qualified than their Republican opponent. I don’t vote based this election on party labels but instead on the candidate’s qualities.

My analysis and commentary may not be as partisan as the keyboard experts that comprise too much of today’s Republican Party may want, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I’ve never seen an election cycle where ignorance was embraced, and bad tactics and strategies were celebrated.

The best example I can share is the “WALZ FAILED” campaign, which the Minnesota Freedom Club funded. The campaign was built around the message Governor Walz “failed” Minnesota. There was never polling or strategic value that showed that the necessary voting block needed to defeat Governor Walz could be built and motivated to vote around the message “Walz Failed.” The tactics used to amplify it were even worse than the remedial message, such as an airplane pulling a “WALZ FAILED” banner that flew circles over the Minnesota State Fair.

I publicly supported Governor Walz for re-election, so I wasn’t the target audience for a “WALZ FAILED” campaign. But I did speak with smart Republican and DFL operatives who privately questioned the effectiveness of the entire campaign. Based on the comfortable margin of Governor Walz’s win on Election night, the “WALZ FAILED” campaign failed miserably.

In the days following the 2022 election, and in the smoldering aftermath of the political explosion of the Jensen-Birk ticket, one legacy of their disastrous campaign survived: the Matt Birk hamburger.

This post went longer than I expected, and I will save additional analysis and commentary about how the Republican Party should move forward in the coming weeks. I appreciate you taking the time to read my perspective. Stay tuned for more updates.

Picture source: Flicker’s The Commons