With his clipped, staccato delivery and ready roster of anti-Trump sound bites, former White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush and current Democratic candidate for the Minnesota senate seat occupied by Tina Smith Richard Painter resembles nothing so much as the inevitable Saturday Night Live caricature of himself. It’s almost too perfect to picture Painter, whose helmet-like mop of steel-grey hair and stone-faced demeanor (he suffered partial facial paralysis after a neurological event a few years ago), embodied by a visiting Bill Hader. (Or, if one had a time machine, SNL season two Dan Aykroyd.) Especially as the no-nonsense candidate is prone to the sort of colorful broadsides against the present Republican Party around which slightly exaggerated SNL political sketches are built.
Actually, “no-nonsense” is only partly true when it comes to the pugnacious Painter, as followers of his cathartically retweeted Twitter account can attest. Klepper, as ever in character as his quintessentially intellectually dishonest conservative alter ego, showed an actual campaign ad featuring the crisply accusatory Painter standing in front of a literal dumpster fire, and assuring Minnesota voters he’s just the guy to dump water on the stinking metaphorical conflagration that is the current Republican Party. That was crowd-pleasing enough, but Painter, in what was almost certainly a bit—say, 75 percent—was then shown in a series of purported outtakes where he compared the increasingly conservative and racist GOP to things like a circus, a 50-car pileup, a goat rodeo, a “clusterfuck,” “a Bahamian music festival produced by Ja Rule,” and even True Detective season two. (“How did they screw that up”,” Painter asked incredulously.)
But as meme-worthy as the outsized Painter might appear, the lifelong former Republican power player is dead serious both about his campaign, and his obvious hatred of everything Donald Trump and his GOP enablers are doing to the country he loves. Telling Klepper that, in leaving the GOP, he “told them to pound sand,” and that he’s “leaving them in the rear view mirror with [his] middle finger up in the air,” Painter decried the administration’s ongoing separation of migrant families (reminder: there are babies in fucking cages), and called out Trump’s “literally fascist rhetoric.” And if challenging the capable Democrat Smith for Al Franken’s vacated senate seat raises its own issues, Painter’s uncompromising (verging on comical) brashness certainly won over Klepper’s audience. Concluding the interview, Painter assured Klepper that, despite Trump’s recent Duluth hate-rally, “anybody who’s running for office in our state with Donald Trump at the head of the ticket is gonna go down in flames.” Dumpster flames.