Ex-Republican Richard Painter Running for Senate as a Democrat to Counter Trump

May 14, 2018

By Christian Smith

The longtime Republican Richard Painter said he is running for Senate in Minnesota as a Democrat because the party he stood by for decades has been hijacked by President Trump and his uncompromising supporters on the far right.

"No one is allowed to run for elected office at the federal level who does not really swear allegiance to Donald Trump," said Painter in an interview Monday with Cheddar. "The Republican party has moved steadily to the right, and is rejecting policies and programs that used to be supported by moderate Republicans as well as some Democrats."

A former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, Painter, is running for the seat that had been held by the Democrat Al Franken, who resigned in January after being accused by six women of sexual harassment. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton tapped the state's Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, to replace Franken until the special election in November.

In explaining his decision to switch parties, Painter said the Republican party is not the party he once knew, and his moderate views and disagreements with Trump are no longer tolerated.

"I am very, very concerned about President Trump's conduct in office," Painter said.

He pointed to two Republicans more conservative than he is ー Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona ー who were pushed aside because they wouldn't tolerate Trump's "obstruction of justice."

The announcement that Painter would run as a Democrat isn't entirely surprising. He has been a vocal critic of Trump, his conduct, and his administration.

"We've got a revolving door between big companies and lobbying shops and this administration," said Painter, who was an ethics lawyer in the Bush administration. "We have violations of the constitutional prohibition of receiving profits and benefits from foreign governments. The president has been sued over that. And we of course have obstruction of justice that is unparalleled to anything we've had since Richard Nixon."

Painter will challenge Smith, who replaced Franken in January, and the progressive activist Nick Leonard in the Minnesota Democratic Farm and Labor Party primary on August 14.

In discussing his campaign, Painter said he won't accept donations from political action committees, and will focus on issues on which he said most Americans agree: universal health care, strengthening environmental regulations, and addressing climate change.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face on the winner of the Republican primary, as well as the independent candidate Jerry Trooien who officially launched his campaign Monday.

Minnesota's senior Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is also up for re-election in November. The two-term Democrat is expected to hold her seat with a steady advantage even as competition for Franken's old seat is intensifying.

For the full interview, click here.