Tim Pawlenty’s denunciation of Donald Trump as “unsound, uninformed, unhinged, and unfit to be president” in the fall of 2016 was a pivotal factor in his unexpected loss Tuesday in the Republican primary for governor of Minnesota that he held from 2002-10.
By a margin of 52.5 to 44 percent, former Hennepin County Commissioner and staunch conservative Jeff Johnson defeated moderate-to-conservative Pawlenty — briefly a GOP presidential candidate in 2011.
Pawlenty delivered his brass-knuckled shot at Trump soon after the release of the controversial “Access Hollywood” tape of the Republican presidential nominee in September 2016. At the time, Pawlenty also said he could no longer support Trump’s candidacy.
“He said this at a time when the only alternative to Trump was Hillary Clinton,” John Augustine, veteran observer of Minnesota politics and elections, told Newsmax, “Johnson really stressed this and reminded voters of Pawlenty’s quote.”
In November of 2016, Trump came within 1.5 percent of the vote of carrying Minnesota’s electoral votes. In Augustine’s words, “Pawlenty never found a way to appeal to the voters who supported Trump beyond simply belonging to the same political party as he did.”
Johnson, to be sure, was critical of some of Trump’s statements in 2016 and at one point referred to the Republican nominee as a “jackass.” However, he never went as far as Pawlenty and repudiated his party’s presidential standard-bearer.
While statements such as Pawlenty’s are the kind of words that normally provoke the president into tweeting endorsements of opposing candidates, Trump stayed out of the primary in the Gopher State. Conservative Minnesotans generally agreed that Pawlenty’s contacts within the White House and the Republican National Committee helped convince Trump to remain neutral in the contest.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, for example, was press secretary to Pawlenty in his brief presidential run seven years ago.
Other factors in Pawlenty’s defeat also were related to Johnson’s team portraying the former governor as an “insider” who was part of the political “swamp.” The former governor worked as top Washington lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable for several years before returning to Minnesota to seek his old job.
“Johnson talked about the problems associated with excessive refugee resettlement in Minnesota communities,” said Augustine, “He denounced the backroom deals that prop up special interests but sell out the core principles. And he talked about big bureaucracies and costly renewable-energy requirements that Pawlenty either supported or failed to oppose as governor.”
“This is the era of Trump and I don’t fit into that very well,” Pawlenty said in conceding defeat, “We knew the ground had shifted, but I think we thought there was still a reservoir of support from Pawlenty supporters we could draw upon to win this thing. But that turned out not to be the case.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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