Friday, January 27, 2023

Hamline University and the Lessons of Crisis Management: Ten Rules to Follow


Universities are businesses.  Like any business they occasionally have to engage in crisis management,

responding to threats, including those to their brand if not their very existence.

               Hamline University is at that point now.  Locally and nationally its reputation is severely damaged. It is at the center of cultural wars.  I receive reports from colleagues overseas in Eastern Europe where I have taught that  my school is now used as a tool of political propaganda in terms of how in America free speech is squashed. Hamline faculty voted to demand its  president to resign.  The University is in a full-blown crisis. The question is what to do?

               I taught in a business school for fourteen years and did corporate, non-profit, and government consulting.  Like others, I often used case studies as teaching tools, seeking to distill lessons regarding what works or not in terms of crisis management.  What can Hamline learn as it wrestles with its crisis?

               Business crises come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be self-inflicted, such as when Volkswagen was caught fabricating emissions testing, or in 1985 when Coca Cola rolled out New Coke in what is arguably the worst market blunder of all time.  The self-infliction can be the result of bad leadership, governance, or hubris such as when  Bernie Ebbers and WorldCom or Kenneth Lay and Enron began cooking their financial books to inflate corporate earnings and  preserve executive bonuses.  Both the 2005 documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room and Cynthia Cooper’s Extraordinary Circumstances—arguably the best book ever on corporate misbehavior , greed, and arrogance—chronicle these stories.

               But business crises can be external.  Nokia’s failure to adapt to changing cellphone market conditions took a business at the top of its game to  one destroyed by Apple and Samsung.  The same is true of Blackberry, which at one point controlled more than 40% of the cellular market.  The 1982 post-market tampering with Tylenol was an unforeseen threat to the Johnson & Johnson brand, but it was and remains a perfect case study in how to navigate a crisis and recover from it. .  Conversely,  Ford’s  1970s coverup of the exploding Pinto and cost-benefit decision on its refusal to change product design to save lives in order to make money is a case study in failure.            

               One can only hope universities and  their leadership can learn from business case studies.  Repeated sports and recruiting scandals at schools pose problems, but often not to the degree of threatening the brand.  In the 1990s the University of Minnesota had a major basketball cheating scandal but it did not challenge or threaten the school’s brand.  The recent decision by its Board of Regents to allow its president Joan Gabel to serve on the Securian Board of Directors is another major misstep, but not an existential brand threat.

               But Hamline faces the greatest brand and existential crisis it has ever faced.  I assess no blame and offer no specific policy recommendations on what to do. But nonetheless based on what business case studies teach us, there are several things that need to be done in charting a path forward.  Here are ten rules it needs to consider.

               First, recognize the problem.  Don’t equivocate  deny the problem.  It will not go away over time but instead fester and produce a long-term corrosive impact on the brand.

Two, be honest and transparent.  J&J was fully transparent and open in terms of what it knew about the  adulterated Tylenol.  Its public engagement and willingness to talk built trust with the public and its consumers.  When faced with a crisis many businesses hunker down and go silent.  This only furthers distrust, encourages rumors, and leads many wondering where is the leadership?

               Three, admit mistakes.  Don’t try to cover   up and don’t try to pretty up a mistake.  We all want to hear genuine apologies and recognition that mistakes were made.

               Four, don't speak in doubletalk.  Businesses like to hire public relations consultants and draft press releases written in corporate prose that say a lot without saying anything.  The public sees through this in a second and it does nothing to build credibility.

               Five, act.  Do something.  Yes, gather appropriate information but do not engage in paralysis by analysis.  Too many businesses face a crisis by  being afraid to act for fear of making the wrong choice. If there is a house on fire don’t stand around and debate what is the best way to extinguish it. At some point pour water on it and work from there.

               Six,  address the short-term crisis first.  Solve it first and then worry about a longer-term solution.  A short-term threat to a brand needs to be immediately addressed, allowing for a longer-term  solution when more information can be obtained, and the emotion of the immediate crisis is past.

Seven, identify the core mission and values of your organization.  What are they, don they make sense, do they need to be changed. These values provide the guideposts for how you will resolve short and long term your  crisis and reposition  your business for the future.

Eight, identity, consult, and listen to stakeholders.  For businesses they are workers, customers , and potential customers.  For universities, they are faculty, students, alumni, and donors.  But remember—students are not customers—they are learners, and their relationship is very different from that of a customer who theoretically is always right.

Nine, separate the interests of the organization from its leadership.  So many crises and mistakes occur when leaders are unable to separate out what is in the best interests of the organization versus what is in their best interests.  Organizational interests come  first, not self-interest.

Ten.  Learn from mistakes.  The best businesses and corporations seek to identify the processes and structures that produced bad decisions.  Continuous learning and changes to organizational decision-making structures are central to improving business.  This was the core of General Electric’s use of Six Sigma to improve its business.

               As Hamline looks forward to solving its current problems, I hope it learns the lessons of what other entities faced and  follows these ten rules here.

Friday, January 6, 2023

George Santos opens a window to the ethics of political lying

 My latest in the Hill.

New York Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.), who faces several investigations, is not the first candidate for office accused of lying, yet many seem to act as if he is. The question is whether such lying is ethically, if not legally, wrong and why, and whether there should be laws that make such behavior illegal. For the good of democracy, political lying should not be protected by the First Amendment; there should be sanctions for it.

Lying is supposed to be wrong. We were all taught that. But where is the line between lying and hyping? Nearly half of job resumes have at least one falsehood because people pad their work history and accomplishments to impress potential employers. Advertisers stretch the truth to convince us to buy products. Despite indignation, our society seems to condone some lying.

Unfortunately, American history is rife with candidates for office lying. The lies take different forms. First, they have lied about political or policy facts such as the state of the economy, crime rates, or foreign policy threats. Or they lie about the records or positions of opponents. Sometimes they lie about themselves or their own resumes.

Not all political lies seem to be of the same type. Lies about oneself are arguably the worst.  They speak to the character and fitness of a candidate for office. They are the basis for how most people judge candidates. We assume that honest people will run for office and that, if they are elected, we can trust their judgment to make decisions on a range of issues about which most of us have limited information.

Nonetheless, all lies pose a problem for politics and, ultimately, democracy.

American politics, including campaigns and elections, presupposes or depends upon truth-telling in order for it to operate appropriately. Elections are competitive contests where candidates put themselves and positions forth for voters to decide. Based on what candidates do and say, the public evaluates the merits of resumes and policy positions of those seeking office. Elections are marketplaces of ideas competing for voter approval.

This marketplace fails to work when candidates lie, especially about themselves. There are parallels to other institutions in society where truth-telling is assumed and enforced. 

The adversarial process in court, for example, works only because attorneys are required to act truthfully in presenting evidence. Juries can reach a fair verdict if they are presented with evidence and information they assume is true. Jurors may have to assess witness credibility and sort out the facts, but in the end they do not have to ask whether the facts they were presented are true.

The economic marketplace works only because of a belief in truthful economic activity. Yes, some might ascribe to the laissez-faire attitude of “let the buyer” decide. But most think that  outright consumer fraud or deception is wrong and that it distorts the marketplace. We presuppose all buyers and sellers will tell the truth and not benefit from lies or deception. This is why, in part, insider stock trading is wrong. Fair play and truth-telling is also behind the rules on intellectual  property.

In school, grades work as a fair measure of merit only if one presupposes that students are not cheating. Teachers suppose students are submitting their own work and assign grades based on it.  Thus, there are rules against plagiarism.

Connecting these three examples is the concept of character. Courts, markets and schools rely on trust and reciprocity, and both are related to honesty.

Elections are something like the adversarial process in court, business marketplaces, and grades in school. Candidates for office are like facts presented in court, products or goods for sale, or papers or exams submitted for grades. Political campaigns both cannot ask voters to decide which policies and candidates they like and ask at the same time what is truthful. At some point, there must be a baseline on what is considered true or false.  

Democracy rests on truth and knowledge. The classic First Amendment-defense of a free press and free speech is that the public is entitled to truthful information in order to be able to vote, make informed decisions, and hold the government accountable. Take away the presumption of truth-telling and, simply put, voters and democracy cannot do the job.

On the anniversary of Jan. 6, misinformation poses a greater danger than ever.

What George Santos allegedly did is an extreme version of what other candidates have done. He appears to have lied about who he was and what he represented. He gave voters, perhaps, a false picture of himself. If that’s true, it was resume fraud at its worst, false advertising, and arguably plagiarism all rolled into one. In an era when America has witnessed repeated lies about stolen elections and other matters, perhaps the public is finally disgusted. We need to rethink the outer boundaries of political lying.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems to think that the First Amendment protects lying and has enabled such behavior. The court struck down laws aimed at prosecuting stolen or false military valor and state laws prosecuting political lies. It is incredulous that the constitutional Framers ever would have endorsed the idea of a “constitutional right to lie.” Instead of focusing on the speaker, the law should focus on the rights of the public and democracy to receive truthful information. Until we do that, there will be more candidates and officeholders who lie.

Maybe Nixon Should have Skipped China

 My latest in the International Policy Digest.

More than fifty years ago President Nixon visited China. At the time, the visit was heralded as a major and smart breakthrough in U.S. foreign policy, realpolitik, and international politics. But perhaps in hindsight the visit and what transpired subsequently condemn the decision as perhaps not so good. It laid the roots for contemporary politics that features an ascendant China perhaps on the verge of invading Taiwan and an emboldened Russia invading Ukraine, and both countries challenging the global order rules in place since the Second World War.

Richard Nixon was a classic anti-communist cold warrior. He cut his teeth on the House Un-American Activities Committee persecuting communists both real and imagined. He was also a conservative. In 1972 Nixon was president. The Vietnam War was on, and the USSR and the U.S. were engaged in a costly Cold War rivalry. America officially did not diplomatically recognize the People’s Republic of China. It viewed the then-corrupt and anti-democratic Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Kuomintang as the legitimate Chinese government. This was true even though in 1971, Taiwan was expelled from the UN and its seat was given to the People’s Republic. The U.S. had mutual defense treaties with Taiwan. And Nixon was up for re-election.

Secret negotiations involving Henry Kissinger and Chinese officials produced the February 1972 Nixon visit. For many, especially conservatives and Nixon supporters, their mantra was “Only Nixon could have visited China.” For them, his impeccable conservative and anti-communist credentials made him uniquely capable of this visit.

Nixon’s visit to China and his meeting with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai was seen as a major coup. Fostering better relations with China served U.S. interests in countering Soviet influence, and for China, it allowed it to play the U.S. off of the Russians. The opening to China also may have facilitated the end of the Vietnam War, opened its markets to U.S. goods, and fostered significant cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Yet during his visit, Mao and Chinese officials insisted on what would become the “one China” policy. The People’s Republic viewed Taiwan as within its sovereign control, desiring eventual reunification. The U.S. and China agreed to put aside this question about Taiwan’s status during the visit. In the Shanghai Communiqué, the U.S. acknowledged that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait [but] maintain there is but one China.” In effect, to forge relations with the People’s Republic, the U.S. was unwilling to unequivocally affirm the sovereignty of Taiwan despite the fact it was an ally and international law spoke to the importance of state borders.

Eventually, though, China had its way with the U.S. and the world. In 1980, the U.S. canceled its defense treaty with Taiwan, and with that formally recognized the People’s Republic as the sole China. With this, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the breakup of the USSR, China became the major alternative to the U.S.

Yet even at this point, China was not a global superpower. Its economy was still far smaller than the U.S. but put into motion in the 1970s by Deng Xiaoping were the market reforms that would transform China. The U.S., hoping that trade with China and its expanded role in a global economy would eventually democratize it, pushed under Bill Clinton for its membership in the World Trade Organization and other international organizations. For the U.S., market reforms and global trade held the key to containing and transforming China into a stable partner if not a democracy.

But none of this worked out as planned. As recently pointed out in Mao and Markets, the West underestimated the cultural influence of communism and Mao’s teachings upon the Chinese brand of business. The U.S. also yet again overlooked the importance of political culture and national interests in another country. China prospered with business enterprises having a distinct Mao accent.

Fast forward to the present. China now approaches the U.S. in its GDP. It also aims to build an alternative world order premised not on democracy and human rights, but on its vision of the world. The Belt and Road Initiative is its way to expand its economic influence. And now China is amassing a nuclear and military might to support its foreign policy initiatives. It bullies its neighbors, it has not democratized, and it threatens the sovereignty of an isolated Taiwan.

Now with Russia ostracized by much of the world over its invasion of Ukraine, it and China grow ever closer.

What might have looked like a good move by Kissinger and Nixon in 1972 now looks less promising. Hope for rapprochement with China, its democratization, and the triangulation to check Russia are fantasies. China stands as the rival superpower to the U.S. Nixon’s visit to China, especially with the agreements that took place then, set in place the seeds of a current world order threatening U.S. interests and global democracy.

There is an apocryphal story that when Nixon visited China either he or Kissinger tried to act smart, and they asked Mao or Zhou Enlai: “What impact do you think the French Revolution has had on the world?” The response came back: “It is too soon to tell.” Perhaps now enough time has passed to ask whether the Nixon visit, what they agreed to, and the forces unleashed, as a result, were beneficial to the U.S. and the world order.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

When the War Ends, What will Ukraine Resemble?

 My latest is in the International Policy Digest. 

We’re nearly a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and there is no indication that the war is about to end. The war at times resembles the bloody battlefields of the First and Second World Wars than a conflict involving modern 21st-century militaries. There is also no indication that either side is prepared to negotiate. The potential is there for a long protracted, slogged-out fight where at various times, both Russia and Ukraine achieve some short-term advantages but nothing permanent. It is like round 12 of 15 in a prize fight where the two protagonists are strong enough to fight on but not able to seal the knockout punch.

Where or what is the end game for the war? While some argue that a divided Korea is a possible outcome for Ukraine, a partitioned Germany is equally likely.

A divided Korea is a permanent fixture of a war that technically never ended. The Korean War may have been the first major Cold War conflict. The fighting between the North and South was a proxy fight for China, the USSR, and the United States. The military advantage shifted back and forth from 1950 to 1953. Eventually, all sides wearied from the fight, culminating in an armistice that simply declared a temporary end to the fighting, leaving a nation divided and no resolution of the various claims. Nearly 70 years later, the two Koreas persist as one of the last Cold War flashpoints, with the possibility of hostilities resuming always on the horizon. It is a state of drizzled peace and war, similar to many days of weather many often experience.

This could be the fate of Ukraine. Unlike Korea, there is no legal principle supporting Russia. Its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Donbas, and Luhansk was illegal under international law. The 2022 Russian invasion and annexation of four of the latter’s regions is similarly illegal under international law that dictates that states renounce the use of force to resolve grievances including over border sovereignty. International law makes Russia’s actions clearly illegal, compelling that Ukraine is entitled to all of its lost territory returned. Yet right is often not might, and there is no indication Russia and Vladimir Putin will willingly retreat and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia has an interest or incentive to end the war. For Russia and Putin, it is about maintaining a zone of influence. It is about national pride. It is the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ with a Russian accent. The war is going badly and no Russian elite, including Putin, wants to admit defeat. He has made victory in Ukraine a test of personal will and his ruling legitimacy may now be tied to the war. Instead, pump more money, arms, and dead soldiers into it. Inflict more damage on Ukrainians in the hope of breaking their will, beating them into submission, or simply exhausting their will to fight. Perhaps at some point, Russia as a supposed superpower can outlast a weaker opponent.

Moreover, others such as China do not want to see Russia lose. With Ukraine supported by the U.S., NATO, and the European Union, it is a test of West versus East, or democracy versus authoritarianism. If Russia were to lose, what of China’s claims to Taiwan?

For Ukraine, the U.S., and the West, it is in part a war of principle to uphold the post-WWII international order. For Ukraine, it is a battle of survival, of national identity, and the right of self-determination to join Europe. Additionally, the U.S. sees this as an opportunity to weaken Russia, with the incentive for the war to go on as long as possible to hasten what is seen as the latter’s inevitable long-term decline.

There is no game plan for peace. No game plan for victory. No incentive to end the hostilities. The fight could go on for years, but probably will not. At some point, the bell for round 15 will sound and the active fighting will end. But how? Yes, one can see one side or another achieving a military victory, but the odds are against it.

In September, I was at a conference in Lithuania in part to promote my new book, Europe Alone: Small State Security without the United States. The book looks at the role the U.S. has traditionally played since WWII in European security needs. Among the several contributors were faculty at the Lithuanian Military Academy. One of them said back then that the fighting will go on until the two sides agree to not fight anymore. They will not agree to peace, they will not agree to resolve their grievances, and they will not agree to legitimate and permanent territorial boundaries. Moscow and Kyiv will fight to get as much land as possible before declaring a truce.

This may be Ukraine’s fate. Whether by that point it has recaptured Crimea, Donbas, and the other annexed regions is not clear. But the lines drawn then will be the basis of a divide between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine and East Ukraine, or the Republic of Ukraine and the People’s Republic of Ukraine, what the names will be is not clear, but Ukraine may be a divided state.

The answer may be a divided Ukraine similar to what we see on the Korean peninsula where territorial claims are never solved and the threat of war breaking out at any moment is always present. Welcome to the new hot peace or cold war.

The other answer is a divided West and East Ukraine. The former will be an EU member state, and possibly a NATO member. It will prosper like South Korea while watching the remainder of Russian-occupied Ukraine go the fate of East Germany. One nation, two states, temporarily divided on a permanent basis. Russia will not have to declare defeat, but it will be vastly weakened. Ukraine wrongly loses territory but gets stronger and prospers as a result. Eventually with a weakened Russia unable to support its client states much like the USSR was unable to do, the client state of Ukraine gets absorbed by its stronger neighbor.

The question thus becomes, is the end of the war similar to Korea or Germany and how long will it take to get to the answer?

Saturday, December 3, 2022

It’s the Message not the Messaging: The Future of the Minnesota Republican Party


Republican operatives such as former House Speaker Paul Ryan  among others believe their party has a problem.  For Ryan it is Trump, for others such as Annette Meeks, a former Republican candidate for Lieutenant-Governor in Minnesota, it is a lack of vision, messaging, or even a failed state nomination process that produces candidates out of  touch with suburban voters. 

All this may be correct but something more fundamental may be at root.  It is not the messaging but the actual message or vision that is the problem.  And it will grow as a problem into the future as the Republican Party faces an existential crisis in the coming years as its base is literally dying out.

America needs viable party competition, including a viable Republican Party.  There is no democracy in the world that is a one-party state.  The parties too must reflect  majority preferences, tempered by respect for the rights of minorities.  But  to win elections and govern parties must build coalitions and form majorities.  This means they need to reflect majority preferences or face oblivion.

Yet what Ryan and Meeks do is confuse the symptom with the cause.  For Ryan, he sees Trump as the problem. Jettison the latter from the Republican Party and it can return to  "Reagan 2.0,” a party of limited government, deregulation, and low taxes.  For Meeks part of the solution to achieving roughly the same  vision is changing the party nomination process such that extremists do not win control.  For her, she wants what I have advocated for more than thirty years—abandon the caucus-convention process to nominate candidates and go directly to  to a primary.  The party is more than the activists, it should be the larger group of voters who ascribe to a limited government free market vision.

But perhaps the real  problem is the message or the underlying public policies that  Ryan and Meeks advocate.   Even if a Reaganite set of public policies were where America and Minnesota  once was  40 years ago, that is no longer the case.  The country currently finds broad majorities at odds with the policies of  what their vision of the Republican Party should be.

Every two years  since the early 1970s the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago  performs the General Social Surveys.   The GSS  is arguably the most comprehensive survey on American public opinion in the country.  The most recent 2021 study is instructive on many scores.

Consider first regulation of the economy and the role of the government in society.  In 2021, 51% of the those surveyed  believe taxes on the rich are too low or much too low.  Nearly 67% believe that those with higher incomes should pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than those with low incomes.

 More than 57% believe the government has a responsibility to meet the needs of those who are sick, unemployed, or elderly.   More than 64% believe or strongly believe business profits are not fair.  More than 70% believe that the government should ensure wages  of low paying individuals increase as the economy grows and a similar 71% believe the income distribution in America is unfair  More than 55% favor more government regulation of the economy. Nearly three-quarters believe workers should  be represented on corporate boards of directors.

Additionally, 66% believe or strongly believe the government spends too little to ensure individuals are healthy.  When it comes to  protecting the environment and  improving education,  62% and 65% have similar views.

When it comes to social issues, nearly 69% believe abortion should be legal, although  with some qualifications.    Almost half at 46% believe  climate change is due to human activity—a response more popular than any other.  Three out of four favor permits  to own guns.  And 61% believe police treat Whites a lot fairer than Blacks.  Finally, 74% oppose opening  up public lands for development.

Across the board it is clear that majority opinion nationally and  probably in Minnesota favors a more activist government  to regulate the economy and business and to ensure that  the basic needs of individuals are met.  This is not laissez-faire Reaganism.  Moreover the stance on social issues such as abortion, guns, and the environment is not about do nothing when it comes to reproductive freedom, crime or safety, and climate change.  The vision articulated by Ryan and Meeks simply is out of touch where the majority of America is.  And they will become less popular over time.

As the Baby Boom and Silents exit the political scene and are replaced by the Millennials and Gen Z, this generational shift makes Reaganism 2.0 even more antiquated.  Surveys of the latter two generations even more strongly support the majoritarian preferences noted in the GSS.  As greater Minnesota depopulates, the base for the Republican Party  will wane.  In 2022 the Republicans did win 74 of the 87 counties in Minnesota, but the big  five—Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, and Washington—constituted nearly 48% of the statewide vote and are growing. Over time the more urban and suburban areas of the state will continue to grow. And these areas hold attitudes on issues consistent with the GSS results.

As I argue in my new book Trumpism:  American Politics in the Age of Politainment—the number one rule of politics is having a good narrative that  is forward and not backward looking. The Ryan-Meeks message is retrograde and fails to appeal to an existing and emerging majority.

Demographics are not destiny but they do portend change.  The Democratic Party too faces existential problems but for the Republicans the problem is more pressing in a state where they have not won statewide election since 2006 and have failed to win the presidency in 50 years.  

In 2012 after Mitt Romsey lost the presidency to Barack Obama the national Republican Party soul-searched and concluded it needed to change to reach out to women and people of color.  Trump’s ascendency  forestalled that.  The problem is not a messaging issue for the Republicans, it is a message and policy problem.  As with dinosaurs who failed to adapt and became extinct, the Republicans need to do the same.

PS:  In a subsequent blog I will discuss the problems facing the Democratic Party.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Trump 2024: Will the Media Behave this Time?


My latest from Counterpunch.

Donald Trump is running for president again.  Elon Musk has reinstated Trump’s Twitter account.  Will the media be able to resist temptation to cover every inane tweet of his and report on Trump the way he deserves?  Don’t bet on it.

Trump and the mainstream media are a dysfunctional couple.  Trump’s entire life is a fabrication, edified upon his ability to manipulate the media to give it what it wants–easy stories and profits. Even before Trump hosted the Apprentice he manipulated the New York and national media to craft the fiction of his brand. Trump Towers, University, Wine, and golf courses all were a product of careful headlining and boasting by Trump.  Trump got what he wanted from the media–attention and a cult of personality or Trumpism and Trumpistas–and the latter got viewers, readers, and clicks. The fifteen year run of the Apprentice was wildly successful, making Trump a household name and making NBC a pile of money.

Trump’s presidential campaign was a made for television and social media event. Studies confirm the billions of dollars in free advertising his campaign received, in return again for the apparent insatiable appetite reporters and the news establishment had. Trump brought them profits and the media rewarded him with the presidency.

As president Trump perfected the art of the deal.  He knew that starting off the day with several tweets would set the news and media agenda for the day. For a lazy media and reporters looking for easy and cheap stories, Trump’s Twitter feed was addictive. No matter how outrageous, preposterous, or outright untruthful, Trump’s statements were reported, even before he was president.  For example, Trump understood that by declaring John McCain was not a hero it would get coverage. But such coverage was a brilliant distraction.  Better, as they say, bad press as opposed to no press.  Trump’s presidency was a lesson in how breathless reporters hung on his every word.

Donald Trump and the media are the most recent incarnation of politainment–the merger of politics and entertainment.  Trumpism became more than one person or a cult of personality, it became a political movement and attitude. Politainment is the joining of politics and entertainment. Together they produced a media-driven world of alternative facts, pop culture, and hyper-commercialism of candidates, politics, and the news. We still live in that world.

Now Trump is back.  He has hisTwitter account back, courtesy of Musk, another media darling the press cannot help but cover no matter how ridiculous  his comments. The question is will the media be able to resist reacting to every one of his text messages, tweets, or statements made by Trump?  Doubtful.  MSNBC, FOX, and CNN will bemoan him yet cover everything he says or does. It is more than simply covering a train wreck. Trump is political crack or political porn, and he is addictive.

A responsible media would ignore Trump.  Or at least treat him no differently than any other candidate for office.  He deserved less coverage in 2016 and 2020 than Bernie Sanders who was practically ignored by the mainstream press.  It would be better to ignore the Trump lies and nonsense than to cover it and give it a shred of legitimacy and attention.  The fuel that fires Trump is attention.  It is how the Big Lie is spread.  Resist the temptation to give what Trump wants; yet I doubt that will happen.

MN swing voters favored Gov. Tim Walz, helping him beat Scott Jensen


My analysis of swing voters and swing precincts  in Minnesota in a fine Pioneer Press article by Christopher Magan.

MN swing voters favored Gov. Tim Walz, helping him beat Scott Jensen

Precinct-level voting data shows ticket-splitters voted to re-elect the Democratic governor

By CHRISTOPHER MAGAN | | Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: November 23, 2022 at 1:58 p.m. | UPDATED: November 23, 2022 at 7:33 p.m.

Minnesota swing voters appear to have overwhelmingly favored Democratic Gov. Tim Walz over his Republican rival Scott Jensen in the Nov. 8 election.

A Pioneer Press analysis of voting data from more than 4,100 precincts across the state found Walz voters were roughly eight times more likely than Jensen voters to pick a member of a different political party for the state Legislature.

“It suggests that independents went to Walz,” said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, who noted the party in power almost always struggles to win a majority of independent voters. “That is so out of character from what it should be.”

There were 343 Minnesota voting precincts that Walz won where Republicans got the majority of the vote in either state House or Senate races. In about one-third of those, 110 precincts, voters backed Republican legislative candidates for both chambers while supporting Walz for re-election.

Jensen’s supporters voted almost entirely along party lines.

There were just 42 precincts that Jensen won where Democrats prevailed in House or Senate contests. Only five precincts won by Jensen also backed Democrats for both chambers of the Legislature.

Schultz said he suspects Jensen’s relatively weak candidacy coupled with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement drove away independent voters not just from him, but from other Republicans on the ballot.

In contrast, Democratic leaders say their message resonated with voters who may have found Republican positions too extreme. During the campaign, Democrats focused on abortion rights, well-funded public schools and economic issues for families.

The result? Gov. Walz cruised to re-election and the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party won narrow control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 2014.

DFLers largely won in the Twin Cities metro and suburbs, but also had success on the Iron Range and in and around mid-size cities like Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud. Republicans dominated rural areas and did better in northern Minnesota, but lost ground in the suburbs.

GOP to regroup

Amy Koch, a Republican and the Minnesota Senate’s first female majority leader, agrees that Jensen was a weak candidate, who made numerous missteps on the campaign trail. Now a political adviser, Koch points to comments Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk, a former Vikings star, made about abortion, taxes and other issues.

“We continue to chose candidates that don’t have appeal statewide,” Koch said. “Their message was bad in so many ways. There was nothing positive.”

Koch said that if Jensen hadn’t lost by nearly eight percentage points, other Republicans would have done better and the party might have held the Senate and won close races for Attorney General and Auditor. No Minnesota Republican has won statewide since former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2006.

“The top of the ticket was too heavy for the ticket-splitters,” Koch said. “Everything we know about elections was playing into Republicans hands and voters still said: ‘No, not you guys.'”

To be competitive statewide and to win back a legislative majority, Koch says the GOP needs to appeal to Minnesotans’ values, rather than recycle more extreme campaign rhetoric that works in traditionally red states.

“That’s not where people are in Minnesota,” she said. “We are a fiscally conservative, common sense electorate with a libertarian base.”

Republicans also need to do much better with suburban women, who appear to have stuck with Democrats this cycle despite Republican appeals on issues like crime and inflation. A good start, Koch says, is to have more women as candidates and in leadership.

“We’ve gone backwards,” Koch said, noting that women in the Republican Senate caucus and leadership have dwindled since she left office a decade ago. “I don’t know why we think suburban women would support us.”

On a more positive note, Koch praised House Republicans’ choice of Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, as minority leader calling it a step in the right direction.

Few districts in play

While Democrats won a majority in the both chambers of the Legislature, it is a narrow one. When lawmakers return to St. Paul in January, DFLers will have a one seat majority in the Senate and about a half-dozen in the House — pending the outcome of recounts in close races.

Some of the DFL’s victories were so close, it appears that a few thousand votes here and there won them control of both chambers.

Schultz says that tracks with past election results when fewer than two dozen legislative races were competitive. A Pioneer Press examination of a decade of state elections found roughly 10 percent of the 201 state House and Senate seats were decided by 5 percentage points or fewer any given year.

Right after the election, DFL leaders Melissa Hortman, the House Speaker, and Kari Dziedzic, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, said they would chart a moderate course prioritizing policies with wide support. At the top of their list, codifying abortion rights, legalizing recreational cannabis, paid family leave and increasing funding to schools.

Schultz and Koch warn that with a slim majority Democrats would be wise to avoid mistakes Republicans made and not hew too close to their base.

“In general, the argument is, we are so polarized it really comes down to a few swing voters in a few swing districts that decide an election,” Schultz noted.

“They have the trifecta,” Koch added, “What (voters) giveth, they can take away.”