It was an eventful two weeks in the saga surrounding the Minnesota Republican Party’s continued attempts to distance itself from Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald, despite the endorsement she heartily received at the party’s state convention in May.
Of course that was before revelations that MacDonald, an attorney who has declared her goal is to abolish the state’s family court system, faces charges of alleged drunken driving and resisting arrest in Dakota County. The key question remains: Could the conflict between MacDonald and her party actually help her candidacy? Ron Rosenbaum, a veteran litigator and host of the Holding Court podcast, which featured MacDonald as its guest last week, believes so.
“The hypocrisy is astounding,” he said. “Either her pending criminal charges are so serious, damaging and dangerous that you can’t endorse her, or this is nothing and you give her the presumption of innocence — in which case you support her. But you can’t take the position that you endorse her but she’s got Ebola and has to be quarantined from the rest of us.”
For those who haven’t followed closely, here’s a recap: The disclosure of MacDonald’s legal troubles initially drew ire from state GOP leadership who say they, along with most delegates outside the 18-member Judicial Election Committee, didn’t know about MacDonald’s pending case or controversial legal philosophy when they endorsed her to run against Justice David Lillehaug. Still, Chairman Keith Downey told delegates in June that short of calling another convention to rescind the endorsement, there was nothing they could do.
All was mostly quiet for the next two months until MacDonald announced her intention, as an endorsed candidate, to campaign from the state GOP booth at the Minnesota State Fair. The party’s executive committee voted to bar her from the booth. When MacDonald showed up on the fair’s opening morning, she was met by a pair of burly “conflict resolution experts” who engaged in a pair of showdowns with MacDonald — with a whole lot of reporters watching. It didn’t take long for MacDonald’s fellow GOP candidates, frustrated with the distraction, to react. The same day as the fair confrontation, Republican-endorsed attorney general candidate and State Sen. Scott Newman announced that he would support the nonpartisan Lillehaug, saying MacDonald’s actions “demonstrate a temperament that is inconsistent with the duties of a Supreme Court justice.”
A group of conservative lawyers followed suit. They sent the party a bullet-pointed list outlining “deep concern” over MacDonald’s candidacy, noting that if elected, she might be investigated by the Board on Judicial Standards for a lack of impartiality. Republican-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden weighed in, saying he would not vote for her or Lillehaug. Meanwhile, Lillehaug, who was appointed last year by Gov. Mark Dayton, now touts the endorsement of 17 Republican attorneys and politicians on his website.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson chose to stand by MacDonald.
“I will tell you that I’m not thrilled with the distraction and the way she’s been acting,” Johnson told Minnesota Public Radio. “It’s not helpful. But I’m going to stick with the ticket.”
MacDonald says she intends to stay on the ballot and will not repudiate her endorsement. MacDonald said attorney Patrick Burns approached her on behalf of the party asking her to do so — a claim Downey denies, while Burns said he was not representing the party. On the same day MacDonald rejected the offer — whoever it came from — Downey sent an e-mail to delegates defending the decision to ban her from the GOP’s State Fair booth. He also acknowledged that MacDonald remains their endorsed candidate.
So, back to the original question. Is MacDonald’s candidacy, distraction though it is for the party, a boon for the candidate herself?
“Yes, I do think so,” Rosenbaum said. “People have sympathy for the underdog and people scratch their head and say ‘Why is the endorsed candidate for the GOP being treated like she needs to be quarantined?’ I think people see that. Whatever else you think of her, it has made her sympathetic.”