Hours after Richard Painter announced his possible bid for Al Franken’s Senate seat, he appeared on MSNBC to comment on Trump’s alleged affair with a porn star. “Donald Trump,” he said, “takes his oath of office about as seriously as he takes his marriage vows.”
It was an unusual statement for a someone “considering the possibility” of running as a Republican in a time when few are willing to speak against Trump. Painter had waded into enemy territory, signaling that he intended to run with conservative values but without the graces of the current administration.
Social media and cable news may fetishize independent and radical views, but voters have not shown much of an appetite for independence. The Republican Party in Minnesota is lukewarm – to put it politely -- about the possibility of a Painter Senate bid.
“Clearly, Richard Painter doesn’t know what he wants to do,” says Matthew Pagano, executive director of the Minnesota GOP.
State Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), who’s already thrown her hat in the ring, dispatched with any niceties, telling WCCO that Painter is an “extremist” who will not end the “plagued status-quo.”
Painter’s campaign takes aim at corruption and “dark money,” the unlimited donations where the source can be kept secret. “President Trump is just one part of a larger problem of corruption” he says. “If I choose to enter this race, it will be to fix the problem of corruption in our government at the federal level.”
Some Republicans see this as an impossible platitude. “Young people in Minnesota want real solutions, not the hollow rhetoric and unproductive grandstanding that Richard Painter offers,” says Aly Eichman, chairwoman for Minnesota Young Republicans.
Despite this criticism, Painter says that he is seriously considering running as a Republican. “I have been a Republican for 30 years,” he says.
Painter doesn’t have the usual Minnesota credentials. He was a New York attorney before he became a law professor at the University of Illinois in 2002. He later served as the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush Administration. He’s currently a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
Painter’s political consciousness evolved in the months before the 2016 election, when he authored opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post on the ethical compromises of a Trump presidency. Within weeks, he had transformed from a government ethicist to a Republican activist who regularly appeared on cable news. In the following months, he racked up hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
Since the election, Painter has emerged as a high-profile Trump critic, weighing in on everything from the resident’s attack on the FBI to Donald Trump Jr.’s India trip.
John Denny of the Painter Minnesota Exploratory Committee believes voters could look beyond party affiliation. “Most of the interest in this potential campaign is coming from independent-minded voters,” he says.
Still, Painter is weighing his options which, at this point, seem open-ended. “I’m going to be considering all three parties,” he says.
Denny expects Painter to make up his mind by mid-April.
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