Opinion: Minn. GOP failure in 2022 midterms

The state’s GOP party needs to come out strong with conservative values in 2024.

by Zachary Borneke

Midterm elections in U.S. politics are supposed to be the opposition’s for the taking. Yet, as I write on the Wednesday afternoon after the election, the “Red Tsunami,” which conservative media predicted, has been what conservative pundit Ben Shapiro called the “Red Trickle.” The Republicans will take the U.S. House of Representatives — but only barely – and Democrats will keep control of the U.S. Senate. The performance of the state Republican party in Minnesota was likewise disappointing, though with the benefit of hindsight, I can say it should have been predicted. After losing the gubernatorial race and with MPR News calling the majorities in both the State House of Representatives and State Senate for the DFL, the state GOP must reflect on where we went wrong.

This gubernatorial election was the easiest statewide campaign the GOP will get for many years. Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) was responsible for draconian COVID-19 lockdowns, which destroyed businesses and livelihoods across the state. In the spring of 2021, he used the emergency powers he had taken up in response to the pandemic as leverage in budget negotiations. Walz openly acknowledged he didn’t need that emergency authority, which was curtailing Minnesotans’ rights to go to work to feed their families, yet he would not return to the normal constitutional order unless he achieved his political goals. Do not forget either that it was the governor who ordered the National Guard to stand down as riots ripped through Minneapolis in the summer of 2020. Walz’s governorship has been failure after failure.

Scott Jensen and the state GOP at large failed to sharply contrast themselves with the DFL; instead, they tried to play to the middle to break into the traditionally liberal metro. When I registered my dismay at a Jensen campaign ad, which ran away from Jensen’s previous pro-life stance, during a meeting of the campus Turning Point USA chapter, I was told rather sharply that this was a necessary political move. Yet when the dust settled, Jensen had lost and seemingly had not boosted state legislative candidates down the ticket. The voters rejected cowardly moderation. This was consistent with the national results, in which Republicans succeeded when they stood strong on conservative principles.

The one bright spot for the GOP in the nationwide picture was Florida. Gov. Ron Desantis (GOP) and Sen. Marco Rubio (GOP) won reelection in landslides, and the Republicans flipped long-held Democratic U.S. House seats. What was different in Florida was that Desantis has a track record of fighting the culture war issue, not running from them and trying to play the moderate. His popularity carried down the ticket. The same could be said for Texas’s gubernatorial race; the changing demographics were supposed to turn Texas blue, but Gov. Greg Abbot (GOP) won reelection comfortably. Abbot has boldly waded into the culture war as well, and his message resonated across ethnic groups. In Virginia’s 2021 elections as well, Gov. Glen Youngkin (GOP) won by focusing on the culture war. Virginia and Minnesota seem quite similar in political ideology; there is a winning strategy for the state GOP if we can follow it.

Midterm elections are supposed to be low-hanging fruit for the opposition party. Yet, Election Day 2022 was a disappointment for Republicans nationwide and especially in Minnesota. We were gifted the easiest gubernatorial race in years with a Democrat incumbent who has made so many decisions to put his popularity with liberal elites above the needs of Minnesotans, but we ran a moderate campaign afraid to offend anyone. This weak campaign at the top of the ticket is no doubt responsible for at least some of the down-ticket failures. This pattern was consistent with the nationwide results, where weak Republicans were rebuffed, but principled conservatism was rewarded. Now the election is over; the GOP needs to lick our wounds, reflect on where we went wrong and prepare for a rough couple of years of united DFL control of the state government. We need to be ready to come out strong, principled and conservative in 2024.

 

Zachary Borneke is a first-year Political Science major at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.