U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., delighted a huge and enthusiastic audience that filled Hogg Auditorium Friday to see him in person — as well as several more who gathered at the adjacent Texas Union Theater and saw him, seconds later, in simulcast — as part of the initial session that kicked off the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival at the University of Texas campus.
But ultimately, Franken, who counts himself as the only professional comedian to have been elected to the United States Senate, left many in his audience disappointed when he told Evan Smith, the Texas Tribune co-founder and CEO who interviewed him, that, no, he does not want to run for president in 2020.
“I don’t want to be president,” Franken said. “I think the president of the United States should be someone who wants to be president.”
Franken, who won his first term in the Senate in 2008 by 312 votes and his second term in 2014 with a 10-percent lead over his Republican opponent, said, “I’ve gotten to see the job of president closer up as a senator than I did as a comedian and I like my job now. I like my job now and I want to continue doing that job.”
“I’m sure we’ll find someone in 2020 who will want to be president and emerge from many candidates and be a great president, but not me,” said Franken, a liberal Democrat.
Franken is the author of, “Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency,” but that was written in 1999, when Franken was still being funny for a living.
Franken came to TribFest to talk about his book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate” — the title is meant as a mock-pompous act of self-deprecation — in which he deploys the sense of humor that made him one of the original cast members and writers of Saturday Night Live, but which he attempted to keep under wraps during his first term, and then some, in the Senate.
Franken said that his rival in his first campaign, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, had deployed the Dehumorizer, which he described as a state-of-art machine that employed the latest Israeli technology to turn Franken’s lifetime of jokes into politically-damaging statements.
With his defeat of Coleman, the task of dehumorizing Franken’s statements, he said, fell to his staff, who, for example, decided it was best if he did not describe what he characterized as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s “hateful dissent” on the marriage equality decision as “very gay.”
Asked by Smith whether it was hard to think of clever ripostes to things happening in the Senate but keep his mouth shut, Franken said, “It was excruciating.”
But, seemingly secure in the Senate, Franken said he decided, “Now I can write a book that’s funny.”