Within days of a self-imposed deadline for disclosing her 2020 plans, which may well include a presidential run, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar must now deal with the emergence of long-standing rumors about her personality and treatment of subordinates. HuffPost found a news hook for these reports in discovering that Klobuchar has struggled to find someone willing to run her putative presidential campaign:
At least three people have withdrawn from consideration to lead Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) nascent 2020 presidential campaign — and done so in part because of Klobuchar’s history of mistreating her staff, HuffPost has learned …
[S]ome former Klobuchar staffers, all of whom spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity, describe Klobuchar as habitually demeaning and prone to bursts of cruelty that make it difficult to work in her office for long.
It is common for staff to wake up to multiple emails from Klobuchar characterizing one’s work as “the worst” briefing or press release she’d seen in her decades of public service, according to two former aides and emails seen by HuffPost.
Although some staffers grew inured to her constant put-downs (“It’s always ‘the worst,’” one said sarcastically, “‘It was ‘the worst’ one two weeks ago”), others found it grinding and demoralizing. Adding to the humiliation, Klobuchar often cc’d large groups of staffers who weren’t working on the topic at hand, giving the emails the effect of a public flogging.
Less anecdotally, Klobuchar had the highest rate of staff turnover in the Senate for a long stretch of time, as the New York Times recently noted:
A survey of senators by the website LegiStorm found that from 2001 to 2016, her office had the highest turnover, which earned her a prominent mention in a Politico article headlined “The ‘Worst Bosses’ in Congress?” (By 2017, two colleagues — John Kennedy of Louisiana and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — had surpassed her.)
She acknowledged that she is demanding: “I have high expectations.”
That’s not what the rumor mill about her suggests, as Matt Yglesias carefully observed after reading the HuffPost report:
But Klobuchar’s current staff and other loyalists aren’t taking this talk lying down, and are making this counterargument, as HuffPost also reports:
Those employees described working for her as a challenge, but an exhilarating one that caused them to grow and perform their best work. They question whether former co-workers who thought she was abusive were falling for sexist stereotypes about female leaders with high standards.
So those of us on the outside have to wonder if she’s just a demanding boss being held to a sexist double standard, or a less benign character who shares some of the incumbent president’s less savory supervisory traits.
Unlike Trump, to be clear, Klobuchar has a public persona that is anything but nasty and hateful. Indeed, she’s often cited as a political example of “Minnesota Nice,” that lovable trait made famous in Coen Brothers movies and other popular cultural memorials to the Upper Midwest. That would probable give her a natural advantage in another bastion of Niceness, next-door Iowa. And it’s among the characteristics (including strong home-state popularity, a solid Senate record, and a relatively wide “lane” as a party moderate) that make some consider her a strong dark-horse 2020 candidate if she decides to run.
The thing about political rumors forced into the open is that clearer and fairer verification — or repudiation — tends to follow pretty quickly. If the current murky and mixed record of criticism and praise for Klobuchar’s style of “leadership” continues, she may well brush back her critics or even decide to boast that her tough standards show she would ride herd on balky federal bureaucrats as president of the United States. In any event, her campaign, if it happens, will invite further scrutiny, and probably constant efforts to get her current staff to share any suffering they experience.