Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin



10 thoughts on “Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

  1. Janey Palmer says:

    Yep, I’m old enough to remember Ventura as governor. It seemed so quaint, yet bold, to elect a former wrestler at the time. And now a con man reality show star? What could it hurt? Your “The ‘closer’ discovered he’s a ‘c short.'” line made me laugh out loud. Thanks for the great analysis and scary forecast.

  2. The Ventura analogy is completely apt. As a conservative I was kind of a swish this time (which is to say, I voted for McMullin..). But the wisdom there was, ten years down the line when people were reckoning with candid realizations of Trump’s debacle & absurdity, I wouldn’t have to admit I used my franchise there so horse-shit-ily.

    We think this is obvious, and yet…. A lot people think Jesse did just fine, were not disappointed, and are not embarrassed by having voted for him. Very good chance the Trump years end up the same.

    Debt ceiling will be a no drama thing. Debt ceiling only matters when Democrats are President.

  3. pm1956 says:

    Couple of things:

    1. Ventura was more genuinely populist than Trump. Remember how Jesse gave back the $$? He lowered the automobile taxes. Sure, maybe it benefited those with Ferrari’s more than those with the Buick’s, but not by all that much. Quite a difference from what Trump is talking about. And it was a very popular move.

    2. Ventura was able to get some high quality entertainment for his inaugural bash! Kid Johnny Lang, if I remember correctly!

    3. His relationship with Ahhnold was very close, and he got governing tips from him all the time.

    4. Ventura actually had some adults in his administration. He personally was just as thin skinned as Trump, just as narcissistic ( “When I was a Navy Seal….”, etc.), but he knew that he was not an expert in governing, and he sought out people who were and, sometimes, followed their advice. He never claimed to be an expert in government.

    Finally, I have to agree with Mr. Peterson that I don’t think the debt ceiling will be that big a deal. I don’t think the GOP will care about it. Maybe not all of them will vote for it, but I do think most Democrats will.

    1. I agree with you that Ventura was a better governor than Trump has been a president; this is akin to acknowledging that the measles is a more survivable disease than ebola. He did hire some adults, was more authentic than Trump (apply disease analogy here), but mostly he was lucky to take office when we had an extraordinary surplus and relatively manageable public policy issues. Hell, I could be be governor in those circumstances and not fuck things up too much.

      1. I voted for Jesse, for the reasons Austin pointed out. You couldn’t get either Humphrey or Coleman to take a stand on anything. I disagreed with some of what Jesse said but liked that he had the guts to say something. My wife reminds me that I said at the time I wouldn’t have voted for Jesse for the U. S. Senate. He could do broader and deeper damage there than in St. Paul (although, living now in Rick Scott’s Florida, I agree with Austin that governors can do serious damage). It took me about a year to regret my vote for Jesse. A couple of days ago one of the networks reported that only 3% of Trump voters now regret their vote. That number is sure to go up as more see who this guy really is, but not as fast or high as I would think.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    Donald Trump received 63,000,000 votes!! After watching clips of all his campaign promises, hyperbole and in many instances total lies replayed as a refrain yesterday in the wake of this ignominious health care defeat, all I can conclude is that he’s managed what has to be considered the single greatest con in world history!! Trump University taken to its paradoxical end game.
    But 63 million votes! Accumulated from a supposedly educated citizenship. Can’t deny he answered a very vital call. So far we’re all paying the price–while the Russian “matter” plays on fueling the seeds of a provocative, baffling future screen play–that isn’t fiction.
    Is this what it looks like to “deconstruct the administrative state”?

    1. pm1956 says:

      so far it looks like the “administrative state” is deconstructing him. Hell, I bet Trump has no idea what an administrative state is.

      as for an educated citizenship, want to hazard a guess as to how many believe in miracles? about the same number as believe our former president was born in Kenya (call it roughly 60 million people….)


  5. Dennis Lang says:

    Sure, Bannon’s the one with some education, sense of history and what I gather an impenetrable, nationalist ideology utterly contrary to any notion of advancing progressive liberal democracy. Maybe Trump–the “closer”–is his marionette with the Executive and both Houses in his hip pocket (?)

  6. Illinois is also seeing this movie. Governor Bruce Rauner, new to politics, multi-millionaire, with a history of CEO-ism (what’s the natural history of that disease?), has now plummeted Illinois into the junk-bond status. He won’t negotiate any compromises. Illinois hasn’t had a budget for over 2 years. Public universities are closing or shutting down programs. I ran our small county health department (partially state funded) and had to discontinue programs to the point of decreasing staff from about 30 to 18 as did most others. You know there really are good politicians – it’s not a dirty profession. They are the people who understand the big picture, take a stand, but are also ready to negotiate and compromise. My dad was a politician of sorts – he was the lead negotiator between labor and management for a big corporation – and he always got the job done with both sides (mostly) happy. States and nations in a democratic society are not corporations. They can’t be run from the top down.

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