The two top Republican leaders came to Minnesota on successive
days in August, and their reception was instructive.
Speaker of the U.S. House Paul Ryan is the highest ranked elected
Republican in the nation, not only the leader of his party in the
U.S. house, but second in line to a presidential vacancy (after the
vice president). He is also widely (although not universally)
popular in the conservative party, and respected on both sides of
the political aisle. He was the pre-eminent GOP leader/spokesman
until his party chose a presidential nominee.
That nominee in 2016 is Donald Trump, the surprise winner to be
the GOP standard bearer, and one of the most controversial major
party nominees in recent history.
It is an unsettled debate about which of these men is the leader
of his party until the general election in November. A sitting
president is always the leader of his party; a losing nominee is
The two men are already historical figures. Mr. Ryan is a former
GOP vice presidential nominee (2012), later speaker of the house,
and a potential future presidential nominee. Mr. Trump has
won one of the greatest nomination contest upsets in modern
history in an unprecedented campaign that broke most of the
contemporary political rules.
In mid-August, on successive days, they came to Minnesota
which is not usually considered a battleground state, but is a state
which offers the Republicans some political gold.
Speaker Ryan came to campaign for two Republicans with
competitive races, Erik Paulsen, the incumbent in Minnesota’s
3rd district; and Stewart Mills, the GOP challenger to Democrat
(DFL) incumbent Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s 8th district.
The only reason MN-3 is considered competitive is that GOP
presidential nominee Donald Trump is thought to be trailing
Hillary Clinton in this suburban Minneapolis district. In fact,
private polling is reported to show Mr. Paulsen with a
comfortable lead. More importantly, he is taking the race
seriously, and has significantly raised more campaign funds
than his liberal opponent DFLer Terri Bonoff. Nonetheless,
Speaker Ryan showed up to help his colleague, and he drew a
large crowd. Mr. Ryan is a man with a mission, that is, to enact a
program of conservative policies, and to keep his current majority
in the U.S. house to pass it. He has endorsed and is supporting
Mr. Trump for president, but he does not discuss the presidential
campaign unless asked about it. Mr. Ryan speaks of his six-point
reform program for 2017 to his audiences.
The next day, Donald Trump made his first visit to the state as a
presidential candidate. A crowded fundraiser was held at the
Minneapolis Convention Center. Although the total attendance at
both fundraisers was approximately the same, and the cost to
attend each was also similar, they were mostly quite different
crowds. Mr. Trump had made a previously unscheduled visit to
flood-ravaged Louisiana earlier in the day, as well as later a speech
in job-ravaged Michigan. In Minnesota, he gave warmly-received
but relatively brief remarks. It had been, however, a very big day
for the GOP nominee. The largest online political website in the
nation, The Drudge Report, had headlined all day that Mr. Trump’s
visit to Louisiana had made him seem very presidential in contrast
to Mr. Obama who played golf on holiday, and to Mrs. Clinton who
made excuses for not showing up.
The visit to Minnesota on back-to-back days of the two
Republican leaders, Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, did not
resolve for me the question of which of them is the truest leader
of their political party. Mr. Trump is the man of the hour, if you
will, and appears to be holding his own so far in the contest with
Mrs. Clinton --- in spite of so many in the media declaring the
race already over. (These same commentators have been plainly
wrong about the race for the past year, and they are showing no
signs that they suddenly have it right.) The big news of the day
of Mr. Trump’s visit to Minnesota was not his fundraiser in
Minneapolis, but his political coup of going to Louisiana, making
President Obama and Mrs. Clinton appear as uncaring as
President George W. Bush did a decade before when he failed to
show up promptly to a similar disaster also in Louisiana.
Mr. Ryan might be the last electoral “eagle scout” at the highest
level of U.S. politics. A man who does not wear his ambitions on
his sleeve, genuinely interested in developing and enacting reform
policies, tough and persistent, and easily likable for an earnest
personality and manner, Mr. Ryan will remain in the spotlight no
matter how the 2016 election turns out. If both win this year, they
will be two very powerful personalities in a partnership to change
the direction of the American government. Their up-and-down
relationship so far would, in that case, probably continue, with a
Vice President Mike Pence acting, as he already has, as go-between.
Minnesota probably will vote Democratic in the 2016 presidential
race; it has been a reliable “blue” state in the recent past. Parts of
the state, particularly the outstate and rural regions will vote
This cycle, however, has been one which has seen most of the
political rules broken. The media and most of the polls favor the
Democrats; the “mutiny of the masses” so far has been an
insurrection of the voters against both parties' establishments.
The only mutiny leader on the ballot in November is a Republican.
It is an historic contest in which the very rules of political
engagement are at stake. With less than 80 days until November 8,
we will now see the greatest test of strategies, polls and political
assumptions in memory.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.