An edited and condensed version of a conversation with Arne Carlson, Minnesota's governor from 1991-99:
I was working for Hubert Humphrey in 1960, '61, and a real tension grew between labor and the academic wing of the Democratic Party. It was manifested very sharply here in Minnesota.
I had been getting more and more into budgets. And you've got to remember, in those days, Democrats would keep running all these deficits. So I felt more comfortable with Republicans, particularly on the budgetary side, and I still do.
People forget, in the 1960s, the Minneapolis City Council was Republican. I was the majority leader. Now there isn't a single Republican, and there isn't a prayer.
We in America tend to use this phrase "all of a sudden." There's no all of a sudden. This has been going on almost 40 years, going back to the 1970s. In Minnesota, it erupted in the form of Christian conservatives coming in. They first came into the Democratic Party. And they introduced this litmus-test philosophy, largely on the issue of abortion, but there was strong religious overtones. And they found the Democratic Party pretty hostile.
I would say in the '80s, the takeover of the Republican Party was complete. It also started to take on some ugly overtones on human rights, the feeling that we, society, had gone too far, for human rights.
I had introduced, I think, the first gay rights bill in Minnesota's history when I was on the Minneapolis City Council. That would've been 1965 or '66. That became the defining issue of the 1994 campaign. I was booed off the stage in St. Cloud — I was the governor, for Christ's sake — and booed in Forest Lake. They invited me to speak at the convention, and not only was I booed there, but they turned their backs on me.
I don't know how many times in American history a sitting governor was denied endorsement. But the rudeness was rather stunning.
I remember a story told to me by the former chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, Bob Brown. He said he got this brilliant young lawyer in St. Cloud to run for the Legislature, and he worked hard, got up and gave this very fine speech. Then this old fart from the county board gets up and says, "Y'all know me. I'm for guns and against abortion." Sat down to a standing ovation.
I really believe over the past 40 years the Republican Party has started to get more and more ugly. They kind of kept their feelings under wraps. But it was abundantly clear they were not supportive of human rights, of immigration, and they were openly hostile to gay rights. Then they got into one of the ugliest things you can do in a democratic society, and that's restricting the rights of people to vote. To me, that's very close to treason.
As long as all these undercurrents were kept as undercurrents, that's okay. The minute they become central, you realize how embarrassing it is. Republicans are petrified, and I think with good reason.
Donald Trump, in fairness to him, didn't invent anything new. He's just repeating everything he had heard. This all existed long before he came along.
I haven't been impressed with him since day one. It starts with the hairdo, and gets worse as you go down.
Two people came into the campaign with public policy. And it was Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. And the media very quickly galvanized behind Donald Trump. They saw their ratings go up the more they covered Trump. They ignored Bush's attempt to talk about public policy, and virtually ridiculed him. I'm not often critical of the media, but I am this year. And it's driven mostly by television, and ratings.
They never really vetted Bernie Sanders, and to this day have not vetted Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton? Oh my God. No human being in history has been more vetted.
Hillary was a visitor in our home while I was governor. She'd been working on programs for children, and my wife was very interested in that as well. The two of them went into the fridge and made sandwiches and literally sat up until 1 o'clock in the morning talking. I found her very kind, a very good person.
Hillary did something First Ladies since Eleanor Roosevelet haven't done, and that was engage in public policy. She really drove the healthcare debate, and that was the first concerted effort to demonize her, orchestrated by the insurance companies.
I think men have to realize their attitude toward women has not been fully appropriate. If a man like Donald Trump screams at his audience, that's okay, it's exciting, he's whipping his people up. If a woman does the exact same thing, she's shrill, unladylike.
Donald Trump has taken campaigning to a new low. I was surprised he was able to mimic a handicapped reporter, and there wasn't the outrage that situation warranted. Or John McCain, spends five years in "the hole." Trump never spent a day in the military, and basically implies McCain is some kind of loser.
I think you're going to see more and more people saying Trump is mentally ill, and you're going to see psychologists and psychiatrists suggesting he probably is. I think a lot of Republicans see that coming, and they don't know what to do about it.
But it kind of reminds me of the French Revolution. Once you've got that guillotine going, you know, eventually, that sucker's going to take your neck.
More from Mike Mullen:
- The Iowa Caucus is a freak show, and should be ignored
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- Rebranding Minnesota's small towns