Rep. Erik Paulsen and Donald Trump may seem like opposites. One is bellicose, needy for the roar of his partisans, willing to say whatever rumbles from his ample buttocks. The other owns a Scandoid reserve, preferring quiet audiences with likeminded men of leisure, where there’ll be no uncomfortable questions.
But dig past the surface to their pursuits in Washington, and they are brothers from other mothers.
Both take a morals-optional approach to personal advancement. Both profess Christianity while giving their hearts to Citibank Jesus. And both have a chameleon quality as Valiant Fighters for the Middle Class, though you’d need a squadron of backhoes to find evidence that either ever threw a punch on your behalf.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the country’s foremost political stat site, Paulsen votes with Trump 98 percent of the time. And those votes are almost entirely for corporate interests. Not yours.
So it was of no surprise when the president praised our local boy with his endorsement. Which, incidentally, made our local boy very unhappy.
Congressman Erik Paulsen of the Great State of Minnesota has done a fantastic job in cutting Taxes and Job Killing Regulations. Hard working and very smart. Keep Erik in Congress. He has my Strong Endorsement!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2018
After nine years in Congress representing the Minneapolis suburbs, Paulsen is on the verge of being dumped by the very voters who once gave him commanding victories. The most recent polling shows him behind challenger Dean Phillips by 5 points.
His problem is the once formidable Suburban White People Coalition. While men still back him by healthy margins, the female part of that equation is desperately paddling for brighter shores. SurveyUSA shows Paulsen trailing among women voters by a stunning 16 points.
Part of it’s due to Republican theology: The dismissiveness with which they treat sexual abuse. The endless assaults on reproductive rights. The sledgehammer they wield against our health care system, showing a skill for destruction, but little interest in creating something lasting and good.
Think Republican, and you envision scowling old men in a hearing room, asserting their right to stand between a woman and her doctor.
Paulsen’s been a quiet cog in all of this, hoping you wouldn’t notice. He’s taken $1.3 million from the insurance industry, $1.2 million from Big Pharma and medical device manufacturers.
When someone hands you that much money, they’re prone to making demands in return. Say what you want about Erik Paulsen, but he fulfills his obligations.
He’s voted to allow insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. He’s backed a return to junk policies, where you may pay less, but you’ll also find yourself empty-handed when illness strikes. His greatest achievement to date is cutting taxes for medical equipment makers, the original parasites of our health system before Big Pharma said, “You call that gouging? Hold my beer, son.”
It’s all very Trumpian, with one small problem: Women seem to have noticed.
So it doesn’t help when Trump takes to his iPhone to sing sweet poems of praise. The president delivers unto women the kind of revulsion usually reserved for ex-husbands. A quality wingman he is not.
After Trump’s endorsement, Paulsen immediately ran to Diversionary Mode. "I wish the president would endorse my positions on trade and protecting Minnesota's Boundary Waters," he told the Star Tribune.
He was referring to his fight against a pollution-guaranteed form of mining upstream from the Boundary Waters, a battle the congressman conveniently showed up for – in a fetching L.L. Bean ensemble – as election season neared.
Subliminal messaging: Look! I’m an independent! I’m wearing L.L. Bean, for chrissakes!
But it was a ham-fisted ruse. Bookies are laying heavy odds that his affection for Mother Nature will expire at precisely 8:01 p.m. on November 6.
Try as he might to distance himself from Trump, the two own the same DNA. One may be shrill and noxious. The other may merely be the stiff, decorous man you avoid a church suppers. Not exactly pleasant, but at least he seems harmless.
We men will fall for it. Nuance is not our gift. And we’ve lowered the standards of manliness so far that even trust-fund tough guys and squirrelly congressmen can buy their way through the door.
Yet women seem intent on saving us. They’re aspiring to a better world – one less mean, less duplicitous, less run by selfish men willing to plunder all that is good and holy to keep their stars aloft.
This world, by definition, cannot include Erik Paulsen. Nor his blood brother.