Bush Ethics Guy Richard Painter Running For Senate As Democrat Just Why Exactly?
His pledge to enact green screen reform is tempting, to be sure...
Richard Painter, the former Bush administration lawyer who's become a gravel-voiced fixture on cable TV thanks to his frequent criticism of Donald Trump's complete indifference to not just ethics but the rule of law (except when it helps enrich Donald Trump), has decided to finally leave the Republican party and run for the US Senate as a Democrat from Minnesota. While we certainly appreciate his recognition that the GOP has become the party of scoundrels, blackguards, and ne'er-do-wells, and it's always good to have a prominent public figure on our side, we have some misgivings. When most people join a new political party, they start off volunteering for a phone bank or door-to-door canvassing effort, not by running for the upper chamber of Congress. And with all respect to Mr. Painter's intelligence and ethical acumen, we're not sure we need another celebrity candidate right now, even one whose cable persona is built around being the AntiTrump.
Slate's Josh Voorhees sums up the Painter Problem pretty well:
Painter may be outpacing the Democratic establishment in calling for Trump to be impeached, but that doesn’t make him liberal. He served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under Bush, clerked for a Ronald Reagan-appointed federal judge, and as recently as last month, described himself as “a centrist in many ways—right up the middle” as he was openly considering whether he should run in the Senate primary on the Republican side. On Monday, he inched leftward, declaring that a woman’s right to have an abortion is “none of the government’s business,” and saying that he’s for increased gun regulations. But he still sounded like a man who would have preferred to keep the R by his name if not for the Republican in the White House.
We don't doubt that Painter thinks he's doing a terrific, public-spirited thing here, fighting to bring his passion for good government and an impressive head of hair to a Washington where only the latter is valued, but he seems not to have noticed that Minnesota has a perfectly good Democratic senator already in Tina Smith, the former lieutenant governor who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill the seat after Al Franken resigned. Smith, who announced she didn't intend to simply be a caretaker but planned to run November to fill out the rest of Franken's term, has been a reliable liberal vote in the Senate, so even if he won the August primary, what would Painter bring to the fall election except being That Guy From TV? That, plus no end of resentment from members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party who had already committed to Smith?
After the chaos surrounding Franken's resignation, the DFL went to some lengths to rally around Smith so she'd have a strong start against any Republican challenger. She's got the endorsement of Rep. Keith Ellison, who had given some thought to challenging Smith himself but decided to back her instead:
“I just decided that nobody’s personal ambition is as important as us retaining that seat,” Ellison said in an interview shortly after Smith’s appointment. “She’s going to get a running start by being appointed by the governor, and all of us are going to gather around her.”
That's the national deputy chair of the Democratic Party saying personal ambition is less important than holding on to the seat -- are you listening, Mr. Painter?
Again, it's not at all clear why Painter thinks he'd be better than Smith. At least he's not trying to paint her (ha! ha! Dadjoke!) as an enemy, or even a rival, exactly:
Painter said he didn’t want to attack Smith with the same zeal as he has attacked Trump and Republicans in general. He said the pair differed in “style and priorities,” and as one example he gave his solid opposition to two mining proposals along the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota, compared with Smith, who under Dayton has allowed one of the proposals, known as PolyMet, to move forward.
He challenged Smith to debate that could be broadcast online.
But again, why? Painter says he'll seek the DFL endorsement at its convention, which starts June 1, even though he's unlikely to win it; deciding the nomination at a convention is apparently a bit too showy for Minnesota, so the DFL just goes with a strong suggestion instead.
Look, mister TV Guy, we think you're swell on the cable news, but we aren't sure you're making a compelling case to throw Sen. Smith under the bus. Maybe have a cuppa coffee and think this one over a little more? They always need volunteers at the phone bank.
Oh, but while we have your attention, maybe you could explain why CNN and MSNBC use the same green screen background when you're on? It's kind of disconcerting.
UPDATE: As several folks have noted in the comments, Mr. Painter isn't ONLY a TV guy; he is also a board member and litigator for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, which has been fighting Trump's conflicts of interest in court, and as Slate says, "it’s because of Painter and co. that most of us even know the word emoluments at all." That's terrific and worthy of praise, and I probably should have included it the first time out. But it doesn't really make Painter any more attractive as a challenger to Tina Smith.
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