Richard Painter, a long time Republican and ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, has filed to run for Senate in Minnesota as a Democrat, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on Sunday.
Painter has become a quasi-#Resistance hero on Twitter and on cable news over the past few years for his outspoken criticism of Donald Trump. His pitch to voters, straight out of an 83-tweet thread: “No Super PACs. No Dark Money. No Russian Agents.”
Painter is challenging Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to her post in the wake of Al Franken’s resignation. On several occasions, Painter has parroted the line that the Democrats who called for Franken to resign over his alleged sexual harassment were unknowingly doing the bidding of Russia:
Apart from a vocal push for campaign finance reform, Painter is still very much on the center right. Here’s part of his economic platform, per his website:
Fiscal responsibility is a classic Republican talking point since the 80’s it has been nothing more than lip service. Richard will fight to cut government waste and tax giveaways to the super rich to move toward balancing the budget and put America in a stronger economic position for our future.
Government waste! Classic Republican talking point! Balancing the budget! Painter will be a perfect Democratic candidate this year, which is 1992.
Finally, here’s Painter from a CNN appearance last May, where he defends Richard Nixon because he was “actually tough on communism”:
The broader picture, however, is that this is about Russian espionage inside the United States. And that’s the big difference with Nixon. I mean Nixon may have been a crook, but at least he was our crook. He wasn’t a Russian agent. He was actually tough on communism and on Russian expansionism.
And this is a very different situation. This involves our national security. It’s a serious threat to our country from a foreign power and the administration continues to engage in a cover up. And I don’t think it’s in the interest of the Republicans. I’ve been a Republican for 30 years. I - there’s no way that I would want to see the Republican Party stand up for covering up for Russian espionage and whoever in the United States has been helping the Russians. It’s going to be a disaster for the Republicans. It’s going to be a disaster for our country.
Smith has an obvious edge, having locked up the endorsements of essentially every big name Democrat in the state, including former Vice President Walter Mondale and Gov. Mark Dayton, who appointed her. But as she’s relatively new to the job—and has only won one statewide race prior to this, as Dayton’s running mate in 2014—Painter’s deficit in name recognition is far from insurmountable. And considering 71 percent of Minnesota Democrats polled in December opposed Franken’s resignation, Painter’s defense of the former senator isn’t going to necessarily hurt him with Democratic primary voters.
By the way: Painter’s trajectory of support during the 2016 presidential election, according to a Minneapolis City Pages profile from February, went from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio and then John Kasich, before he finally settled on Hillary Clinton. Think about that for a second: Painter’s first choice for President in 2016 was fucking Jeb!
This is the problem with trying to build a big tent anti-Trump party: eventually, you get someone who would be totally cool with the presidency being the Bush family’s birthright. The fact that Painter feels comfortable rebranding himself as a Democrat in his run for office says a lot about what he thinks about both Democratic voters’ long-term memory and what the party stands for today. None of it is good.