MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Donald Trump’s “outsider” campaign for president is nothing new to Minnesota voters — it’s very similar to the one that elected former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in 1998.
In fact, Trump once came to Minnesota to find out from Ventura himself exactly how he did it while he was considering a run for public office himself.
“It’s almost like he’s reading our playbook,” said Dean Barkley, Ventura’s campaign chairman, who Ventura later appointed to the U.S. Senate. “Ventura had very, very high negatives. Nobody took him seriously. What he had going for him was his personality, and his ability to connect with people.”
Barkley engineered Ventura’s improbable strategy, similar to Donald Trump’s today.
“Ventura and Trump are exactly the same,” Barkley said. “They tell you what they think. They don’t care about the political consequences.”
Ventura’s 1998 campaign slogan was “Retaliate in ’98,” casting Ventura as the modern anti-establishment, anti-media, anti-career-politician. When Ventura won the three-way race, Trump came to Minnesota to see for himself.
In Februrary of 2000, Trump attended a fundraiser for the Minnesota Reform Party, a third party to which Ventura joined for the election. At the Brooklyn Park fundraiser, Trump first revealed his blunt, outspoken style — so familiar today.
“I watched the debates last night,” he told the crowd 16 years ago. “I mean, tell me: Are these guys stiffs, or what? Give me a break!”
At the time, Trump was considering his first run for President as a third-party candidate, trotting out politically incorrect talking points — including one about the difference between him and the 2000 Republican candidate for President, George W. Bush.
“One is somebody who is a member of the lucky sperm club,” Trump said, “and the other is someone who made money. I think there’s a difference.”
Like Trump, Jesse Ventura brought out new voters who previously were not involved in politics, or who were fed up with the system. Both also seem immune to normal political behavior.
In January, Trump said: “I could shoot a person on 5th Avenue and no one would do anything.”
Ventura also said things no other politician could say — and it didn’t hurt him.
“About 2 weeks before the election, he goes off on his own,” recalled Barkley, “and says ‘Well, I think we should legalize drugs and prostitution.’ Now, any other person saying that — a typical politician — would have gone ‘BAM!’ They’d have been dead. But Jesse went up in the polls!”
After Ventura’s remarkable Minnesota win, Donald Trump wanted to know how he did it.
At a private two-hour meeting at what was then the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park, Barkley and newly elected Governor Ventura broke down for Trump their winning campaign strategy– month by month.
“He obviously studied what we did,” said Barkley, who described Trump as “charming”, “curious”, and “detail oriented.”
“The whole theme for our campaign was ‘Retaliate in ’98!’,” he said. “Anti-establishment. We’re not one of them. We’re different. And Donald’s doing the same thing!”
Barkley says Trump and Ventura spoke frequently during Ventura’s single term in office, and they met at least once in New York. And like Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump’s campaign was at first considered a joke.
Ventura did not respond to our request for an interview, but he told us last year it’s no joke how voters are responding.
“I maybe don’t stand with Donald on all the issues, but I love what he’s doing,” the former Governor said.
Ventura said last year he’d consider running as Trump’s Vice President, if asked.
More recently, he said he’s considering running for President himself — as a Libertarian.