Thinking Citizen Blog — Getting to Know Both Sides XII: Senator John Thune, Minority Whip

Thinking Citizen Blog — Sunday is Political Process, Campaign Strategy, and Candidate Selection Day

Today’s Topic: Getting to Know Both Sides XII: Senator John Thune (R-SD), Minority Whip (2021 — )

This is the twelfth in a series on Republican and Democratic leaders at the national, state, and local levels. The goal is to get beyond the sound bytes and the insults and to come to appreciate the unique stories of each individual. After an extended series on The Squad, the focus now is on Republicans. Last week, Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader, and top ranked Republican. Today, the second in command: the Minority Whip, Next week, the third highest ranking Republican: John Barrasso, chairman of the Republican Conference. After that, the Democratic Senate leadership: Chuck Schumer, Majority Leader, Dick Durbin, Majority Whip, and Patty Murray, Assistant Democratic Leader. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Parents: His father, Harold Thune, was of Norwegian descent and a fighter pilot during World War II (and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross). His mother, Pat Thune (nee Bodine) was born in Saskatchewan and met Harold at the University of Minnesota. “The couple spent 15 years running the Thune family hardware business, and then worked in the Murdo school system, where Harold taught and coached for 21 years and Pat served as the high school librarian.”

2. Education: Biola University (California), BA in business, 1983. University of South Dakota, MBA in 1984.

3. Early Career: legislative aide to US Senator James Abnor (1985–1987), who had defeated George McGovern in 1980. Then executive director of the state Republican party (1989–1991), Railroad Director of South Dakota (1991–1993), executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League (1993–1996).


1. US House of Representatives: an underdog victor in the Democratic primary in 1996 (his first foray into electoral politics), he won the general election by a margin of 58% to 37%. He pledged to serve only three terms and he won re-election in 1998 (75% to 25%) and 2000 (73% to 25%).

2. US Senate 2002 and 2004: lost his first attempt in 2002 by only 524 votes! This was against the Democratic incumbent, Tim Johnson. But Thune did not contest the election. In 2004, he defeated Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, by 4508 votes! This was “the first ousting of an incumbent Floor Leader since 1952, when Arizona Senator Ernest McFarland lost to Barry Goldwater.”

3. US Senate: 2010, 2016. In 2010 Thune was unopposed in both the primary and general election! “The first time in the state’s modern history in which a major party has failed to field a Senate candidate.” In 2016 Thune won with 71% of the vote.

NB: In 2006, Thune was appointed Chief Deputy Whip by Trent Lott. In 2009 he became chairman of the Republican Policy Committee (the fourth-ranking position in the US Senate), then in 2011, Republican Conference Chairman (third-ranking), and finally Majority Whip (2019–2021).

PRESIDENTIAL AND VICE PRESIDENTIAL SPECULATION: 2008, 2012, the nightmare and the looks

1. 2008: Prior to the selection of Sarah Palin, Thune was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Republican nominee John McCain… Thune publicly played down the speculation.”

2. 2012: pushed to run by Lindsey Graham as a “consensus builder.”

3. “DNC Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon publicly stated that “among a field of generally flawed (in one way or another) Republican presidential candidates, there is one who genuinely scares her. ‘This is personal[,] but John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about,’ she said.”

NB: “According to multiple commentators, Thune’s candidacy could be helped by his personal appearance (he “looks like a president”)


1. In the “Solutions” section of his website, six issues are highlighted on the first page. Consistent with his South Dakota constituency, the top priority is agriculture.

2. For example, he vehemently opposes concentration in the meatpacking industry which is anathema to the interest of South Dakota ranchers. (6/9/21)

3. He sits on four committees: Agriculture, Finance, Budget, and Commerce (of which he is chair).

NB: His current rating by the American Conservative Union is 84 down from 100 in 2006. His Planned Parenthood Fund rating is 0 and his National Right to Life rating is 100%.

Senate Republican Leadership Positions

For the last three years of posts, organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


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