Trump has been nudging MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to run for office – POLITICO

Trump has been nudging MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to run for office – POLITICO.

President Donald Trump introduced those tuning into his nightly coronavirus task force briefing on Monday to a special guest: Mike Lindell, the multimillionaire inventor and CEO of the MyPillow empire.

“Boy, do you sell those pillows,” Trump said, asking him to step up to the mic and tell Americans how his company was helping them deal with the outbreak. Lindell then launched into a short infomercial for his company, going on to describe how the firm was manufacturing cotton face masks and effusively praising the president for his pandemic stewardship.

“I did not know he was going to do that, but he is a friend of mine, and I do appreciate it,” Trump said.

It’s hardly their first encounter. Lindell has told associates that the president is encouraging him to run for governor of Minnesota in 2022, to “keep Minnesota red beyond” the 2020 race, according to a person with direct knowledge of his comments.

Trump told him that “he really wants me to run,” according to the source, who spoke with Lindell in late February soon after the MyPillow CEO’s conversation with Trump in the White House.

Lindell was in town for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference over that last weekend of February, and on Feb. 29, posted a photo on Instagram of himself with Trump at the White House, saying that he had been appointed the chair of the Trump 2020 campaign in Minnesota. “We will make Minnesota great again!” he wrote in the caption.

Officials in the White House have also had internal conversations about Lindell’s political future, including a prospective run for governor. The fact that the MyPillow inventor is a “Trump Republican” makes the president’s team excited about his potential candidacy, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Lindell is “likable, has a great persona and great redemption story,” this person said. “It has been a tough state but there is excitement and folks are excited about the prospect that Minnesota is trending red.”

Lindell has teased a potential run for years, telling associates that Trump had wanted him to run in 2018, but apparently Lindell dropped the idea after it became clear that his company was on the brink of layoffs. MyPillow eventually laid off 150 workers in 2019.

Lindell, a lifelong Minnesota resident, would likely face off against the Democrat incumbent Tim Walz, who was elected in 2018. Walz currently has a 55% approval rating and a 25% disapproval rating, according to recent polling from the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis.

If Lindell ran and won, it wouldn’t be the first time that Minnesota has elected a celebrity political outsider: Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura served as governor from 1999 to 2003 and comedian Al Franken won two terms as a U.S. senator from the state.

In a brief interview, Lindell denied that Trump has encouraged him to run. “I’ve never talked to Donald Trump about it. I rarely have a conversation with him, maybe once in a blue moon.” A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Though he claimed that he was “100 percent committed” to a run in 2022, one person who spoke to him added that he may have just been boasting. “Mike is a very braggadocious guy in the same vein as Trump, where he’ll say ‘I’m going to do X-Y-Z’ and then just totally forgets about it, or totally decides that it’s not in his best interests anymore and so just lets it disappear,” this person added.

Lindell pushed back on this notion and said: “When I say I do something, I’m like the president: I follow through and do it. I keep my promises.”

The flirtation, however, has started to become more public.

In recent months, Lindell published an autobiography and told local media outlets during interviews that he’s open to the possibility of running in 2022. “You know, people keep asking me, so yeah, I’ll consider it and I’ll pray about it and see if God leads me on a path,” he said during a January appearance on The Paul & Jordana Show on News Talk 830 WCCO. As he recently told the Star-Tribune, he appointed his son Darren as the company’s chief operating officer, “[i]n case we do anything political.”

A Minnesota GOP operative noted that Lindell attended the winter meeting of the Republican Governors Association, where people encouraged him to run, according to another Republican familiar with the conversations. (Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell brought him to the event, according to this person and McDonnell, in an interview.)

Lindell confirmed that some governors he met at the RGA encouraged him to run.

“They all did,” he said, speaking about attendees of the RGA. “Everybody encouraged me. There was a lot of encouragement.”

Last week, he said in an interview with former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka on his radio show “America First” that he is “very strongly thinking of doing it” and said that Republican governors told him the hardest part of running is that candidates get attacked during the campaign.

“I said ‘I love that part. I’ve been used to that since I went all-in for the president. Come on. I live for that,’” he said.

McDonnell, a former chairman of the RGA, said he first met Lindell at a lunch for Newsmax TV down in Palm Beach earlier this year and Lindell told him he was considering running for governor.

“I think like many people, they have these life-changing experiences and then they start to ask how can I do that to maybe help other people so I think that’s probably where Mike is,” he said. “I think he’s got a really good heart and a desire to serve other people and this is one of the ways he’s considering doing that.”

He said he introduced him to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the current chairman of the RGA, and other governors like South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Lindell also asked Iowa’s Kim Reynolds about the realities of running a state, according to the Republican operative. “He’s never run for office before so he’s trying to figure out what to expect if he were to win and how to do a good job,” this operative said.

Lindell’s autobiography, which is self-published, chronicles his rise from a crack cocaine addict to the multimillionaire inventor of MyPillow, which brought in $300 million in revenue in 2017. His nonstop, lo-fi infomercials on Fox News have turned him into a ubiquitous presence on the Trump-friendly network, giving him unparallelled name recognition in the state.

Amy Koch, a Minnesota GOP political strategist said she believed Lindell would make a strong candidate given his prominence, his ties to Trump, his deep pockets — and the lack of any potential competition in the primary. “The Minnesota GOP has not had success since 2006 with [former governor Tim] Pawlenty, in a statewide race,” she told POLITICO.

“I think he would clear the field and be the strongest candidate for sure,” the Minnesota GOP operative agreed.

Lindell has donated to Trump twice in the past, and in recent years, become a regular presence at Trump rallies, particularly as the campaign seeks to flip Minnesota, a state which Hillary Clinton won by a mere 1.5 percentage points in 2016.

He’s spoken at two of them — once in October 2018, during the midterms, and again in October 2019, where he called Trump “the greatest President” in American history.

Lindell was even spotted on the red carpet at Mar-a-Lago, where he went to the New Year’s Eve party hosted by Trump. A devout evangelical Christian, Lindell also told an audience at CPAC in 2019 that Trump was “chosen by God.”

Trump, in turn, has praised Lindell as “the greatest” for both his political support and his advertising acumen. “First of all, he does make a great product, great pillows. I actually use them, believe it or not,” he said during a 2018 rally in North Dakota, which Lindell attended. “But he’s been, he’s been a supporter from Day One, and I said, ‘you know, I want you to be my ad buyer,’ because I guarantee he makes great deals.”

Ken Martin, the chairman of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, argued that Lindell’s close ties to Trump would instead hinder his chances, pointing to Governor Walz’s high approval ratings.

“There’s nothing that really distinguishes him other than his support of Donald Trump,” said Martin, noting that the GOP’s current crop of candidates in the state, like Senate challenger Jason Lewis, is already hugging the president closely. “They believe that Donald Trump has huge coattails in Minnesota, and I think they’ll be proven wrong.”

For now, a potential Lindell candidacy may be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he is still active in the public eye, recently announcing that he was pivoting 75% of MyPillow’s production to making face masks for healthcare workers, planning to produce over 50,000 masks per day. “We want, like the president says, we want our manufacturers here in the USA. Especially, we’ve learned, our medical supplies,” he told Fox News on Friday. “We don’t want 90 percent coming in from overseas. We want to make them right here and we’re going to learn from this.”

Caitlin Oprysko contributed reporting.

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