Wisconsin 2020: When an Election Un-Steals Itself

Wisconsin last week gave us a frightening preview of the lengths Republicans will go to dismantle democracy. It also gave us a peek at the likely outcome.

By all indications, it should have been a low-enthusiasm, low-stakes, low-turnout election, even before the pandemic. Presidential contests in both parties were settled. The only race of any real statewide interest was a down-ballot Supreme Court seat where Democrats have struggled in the past to generate public interest.  

Then comes COVID-19. Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, reached out to Republicans in the legislature to move the election out a couple of months. With the pandemic approaching a peak it seemed obvious that an in-person canvas was a dangerous idea that would get people killed for no reason. Well, Republicans had a reason.

Donald Trump had noisily endorsed their Supreme Court candidate, and that high court position would be critical to their plans to purge election rolls prior to November. They threw a fit, used the state Supreme Court seats they’d recently bought to block the Governor’s efforts, then got help from Trump’s new SCOTUS picks to seal the matter. The election would go on, in person. If people die unnecessarily, well that’s just the price we pay for the pro-life agenda.

Republican calculations were simple and lethally cynical. Thanks to a steady diet of Fox News disinformation, they expected that their aging white rural voter base, already more likely to turn out in low-interest elections, would be unafraid of the pandemic. Democrats’ core supporters were heavily concentrated in Milwaukee, where the steady closure of polling places over the years means hours-long lines, creating serious risk of disease exposure. Between pandemic fears, low-enthusiasm, and growing obstacles to participation, this was a chance to run away with an election.

It didn’t “turnout” that way.

Voter turnout in Wisconsin’s 2020 primary isn’t fully calculated yet, but it already ranks among the highest in the state’s history. Trump’s Supreme Court pick was trounced by almost 10 points. Republican turnout was unremarkable while Democrats saw a surge.

Republicans in Wisconsin demonstrated that they’re finished cooperating in a system of participatory democracy. They’ll lie, cheat, steal and kill to protect the power of wealthy white people to control policy in this country. And they utterly failed.

Rigging an election is much harder than it looks, and Republicans can’t even get the easy stuff right. There’s no one left in the GOP but grifters, racists and religious nuts. Their delusional enthusiasm makes them dangerous, to the point of likely violence at some point, but everything else about this coalition makes them catastrophically ineffective. They believe in outrageous fantasies. They think some mystical force will intervene to clean up their lazy errors. And everything they attempt to accomplish is undermined by con artists, swarming at their margins, skimming away money and influence intended for other purposes and poisoning any efforts to build discipline. Republicans in 2020 are dangerous and pathetic at the same time.

Wisconsin’s election taught us that defeating Republicans will be far simpler and more straightforward than we tend imagine, once Democrats resolve to fight. Republicans in Wisconsin pulled every available lever to steal an easy election and failed, simply because voters wouldn’t cooperate. Confrontation works. Generating enthusiasm through anger or any available means, works. If Wisconsin was Republicans’ model for election manipulation, then their prospects for the General Election look very poor indeed.

24 Comments

  1. Conservative columnist Max Boot is calling for GOPers who might actually care about the country to openly endorse Joe Biden. Given the dearth of sports action, I wonder if Vegas (assuming the online portion is still active) could give us odds, because I’m curious how you would handicap such low odds. Here’s are the people Max is shouting out:

    George W. Bush and former vice presidents Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle; former governors such as Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Mark Sanford and John Kasich; former senators such as Bob Corker, Norm Coleman, Jeff Flake, Mark Kirk and Rick Santorum; former Senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Bob Dole; and former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Also former Cabinet members such as secretaries of state James A. Baker III, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; defense secretary Robert Gates; national security adviser Stephen Hadley; treasury secretaries Paul O’Neill and Henry Paulson; homeland security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge; and attorneys general John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales

    Former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, former homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster

    Republican governors of Maryland (Larry Hogan), Massachusetts (Charlie Baker), Vermont (Phil Scott) and Ohio (Mike DeWine)

    Senators Mitt Romney (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Tim Scott (S.C.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — or House members such as Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Mac Thornberry (Tex.), Will Hurd (Tex.) and Francis Rooney (Fla.)

    The only people on that list I would ever considering betting on to do the right thing are Romney (highest odds, because he did vote to convict on one article of impeachment), Kasich (because he has been willing to criticize Trump), and maybe Hogan and Baker (because they have shown some independence). I wouldn’t even waste a buck on longshot odds for any the rest, because they haven’t shown me much evidence of a backbone these past 3 years.

  2. This is a hopeful sign but let me offer an alternative scenario:

    1. Republicans were not as motivated to vote in the WI SCOTUS election since conservatives would still retain a majority if their candidate lost.
    2. Trump was not on the ballot.

  3. I am going to lay out some scenarios. People can attach whatever probability to these scenarios that they want, but they cover 100% of all things that can happen.

    1. There is an election in Nov. The tyrant loses, quietly and gracefully accepts it, and then spends the last 12 weeks of his presidency in lame duck mode, not invoking any major legislation.
    2. There is an election, fair or otherwise, in Nov. The tyrant loses, but says the result is rigged, and calls for his cult to rise up and protect his regime.
    3. There is an election, fair or otherwise, in Nov. The tyrant loses by a massive amount, one he nor his cult can deny. For the next 12 weeks, he goes completely scorched earth, doing untold damage to the country and planet.
    4. There is no election, as the tyrant, with the support of the Senate and SCOTUS, pushes it back due to the resurgence of Covid-19.
    5. There is a rigged election, thanks to voter suppression (mail or otherwise) and simply ballots not being counted. The tyrant is declared winner, even though the polls had him losing by 8-10 points.
    6. There is an obviously rigged election, thanks to voter suppression (mail or otherwise) and simply ballots not being counted. The tyrant is declared winner, in what looked to be a very close race.
    8. There is what is likely a fair election, and the tyrant wins, and then does god knows what. But pulling out of the WTO, NATO, WHO, and the UN are certainties.

    Now, in those 8 scenarios, what does the Dem party do, given that the Senate and SCOTUS will back all moves by the tyrant. And what is the populace prepared to do?

    In all but one of these scenarios, the tyrant cannot be allowed to continue.

    1. As Tom Nichols so often reminds us, Dins, there’s a simple remedy against corruption and voter suppression. You vote in numbers too big to manipulate, and that’s *exactly* what Wisconsinites did.

      Now, of course, that isn’t to say voters just blew up in righteous indignation at Republicans’ ratf*ckery and roared to victory. Grassroots organizing and ordinary citizens working their asses off was key (here’s the full story for those interested: https://twitter.com/benwikler/status/1249869235683196928), and that’s what we need across the board this November.

      Slap a grin on your face and try being more positive, Dins. We can win this.

      1. In scenarios 2 and 3, there is nothing that could stop Congress impeaching and removing, probably at warp speed. Why would the Senate GOPers go along this time? Because Trump would have cost them everything, he’s no longer useful, and they really don’t like him.

      2. With respect to #2, I’d say that while it’d be a horrible mistake to underestimate the threat of extremist violence (something a Biden Administration should have at the very top of its to-do list) in the wake of Trump’s hopeful defeat, we also shouldn’t tremble in our boots at the thought of millions of Trumpists rising up to throw America into chaos.

        By and large, these are not intimidating people. They’re old, underachieving and less than physically adept (read as fat) who waste their days away letting Fox News tell them it’s okay to feel aggrieved and angry.

        To sum it up, let us be calm and concise, but not overconfident as we deal with those small numbers that generally intend real harm. We have the power to contend with this and we will.

        As for #3, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Trump is, above all else, a coward. He is not an arsonist, he is a narcissist. He got himself impeached because he feared facing Biden that much, because he fears losing that much.

        Trump knows what’s coming the moment a new Democratic administration takes office, and it scares him like nothing else.

        I’ll make a friendly wager with you, Dins. I say Trump’s overriding narcissism compels him to run before he’d ever resort to scorching the earth in some kind of apocalyptic post-election temper tantrum. Screenshot it and save it for November.

      3. “ Trump is, above all else, a coward. ”

        Yes, witness how quickly he backed off the potential confrontation with a bunch of the Governors on when to reopen their states. Bullies are cowards, and they cave if you stand up to them forcefully enough.

        Also it’s a tacit admission that he was really wrong about the absoluteness of his powers.

      4. @Ryan: Assuming #3, it is dead certainty that at the very least, he fills his pockets and his cronies pockets with as much loot as they can steal legislatively, and then wields a mad pardon pen Jan 19th.

        Remember, the Senate aka the kentucky monster will still be behind him, unless you are assuming the Dem’s are going to somehow pick up 6 seats out of the 35 being contested. And even then, the Senate seats don’t change until Jan 3. So the tyrant can do anything and everything until at least Jan 3. If the Senate does flip, this group then also has zero to lose as well, and will happily scorch the earth with him. Remember, they still have SCOTUS backing every move.

        @Flypusher: Yes, he is a coward. And I was wrong. I really thought he was going to run with this “total authority” thing. Maybe someone outside of his inner circle got to him and read him some kind of riot act, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

        I did some reading. He can’t pull out of NATO. He can strangle the WTO by continuing to block the assigning of judges to its appellate tribunal. We see what he can do to WHO.

    1. I am for the moment working from home, at least those parts of my job that can be done from home. I’m actually looking forward to grading student essays in a few weeks! I’m under contract through August and I have an NIH grant in the final round for funding consideration, so for the short term I’m OK.

      I got my $1200 yesterday. Sucks for the people who haven’t got it yet because they don’t have direct deposit and Trumpy’s delaying the paper checks because he wants his name on them.

  4. “Republicans in 2020 are dangerous and pathetic at the same time.”

    45 citing supreme executive power over ‘opening up the economy’ is this entire point as metonym.

    … Obviously the economy is going to do terribly if we don’t take care of a pandemic. I don’t even have to look at the comparisons between cities back during the Spanish flu. Sick & dying workers + dying consumers + reduced consumption from people who self-quarantine or anything less than average consumption, is going to equal a struggling economy. The economy is fucked either way, so we might as well not die.

    Right now businesses are going to adapt, pivot, or be founded, and the federal government could certainly take a meaningful role in enabling those adjustments while cushioning the blow from closed and temporarily shuttered businesses. Even if 45 blustered on about ‘opening the economy in May’, his advisors, shills, and propagandists could variously get to work providing real support and claiming that’s what he meant, “He didn’t mean stop social distancing.”

    And yet, they’re not. So we get the WORST of both worlds. We get both a shit economy, and a federal government throwing dead bodies at it for the hopes of …

    *checks notes*

    raising the stock market higher than its previously overinflated value so that the business president can claim business works.

    Instead of actually making business work.

    I mean whatever. This pandemic set off my cynical side pretty hard. Americans are so eager to die painful and preventable deaths rather than vote for someone who even attempts to work on their behalf, so how upset can I really get?

  5. “Once Democrats resolve to fight”…

    As important, is “how” Democrats fight.

    The 2020 election promises to be the dirtiest election in my lifetime. In spite of the tremendous needs in our nation, an obscene amount of money will be spent by both parties- Republicans because it is their last stand before self – annihilation, and Democrats because our nation will never survive another four years of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell’s republican Senate majority.

    Everything else is just noise.

    Democratic resolve in combination with a no holds barred fight is what it’s going to take. Democrats need to stop being nice and fight to win.

    1. No one’s saying this is going to be easy (Wisconsin’s behind-the-scenes story of their victory was anything but a walk in the park: https://twitter.com/benwikler/status/1249869235683196928), but we *can* win this. Republicans’ tactics aren’t insurmountable or above ordinary voters beating aside.

      That’s the takeaway from this election, and we have every conceivable incentive for this to be a once-in-a-generation shellacking (I often feel like I tempted the fates joking about the only thing that could make Kentucky competitive was economic calamity on the scale of the Great Depression). We vote in numbers too overwhelming to manipulate, and we deal with whatever roadblocks those crapweasels throw in front of us one at a time.

      And finding a campaign to donate to ain’t a bad idea either.

  6. One needed correction I see: “They threw a fit, used the state Supreme Court seats they’d recent(ly) bought to block the Governor’s efforts, then got help from Trump’s new SCOTUS picks to seal the matter.”

    Kudos to WI voters!! They set the example we all need to follow. I’m reminded of voters in the ME, particularly women, raising purple stained fingers in defiance of those who threatened violence against anyone who dared to vote. People in line wearing their masks is the 2020 version. I hope they all stay healthy.

    The GOP is fully in the cornered rat phase, so we can’t let down our guard. I would crawl over a field strewn with Coronavirus laced broken glass to vote out every one of the GOP liars, cowards, hypocrites, and sellouts.

  7. I was walking door to door before Florida’s primary for Senator Warren. I can tell you in swing Florida , in the swing I-4 Corridor, Democrats are entergize and pissed. Blacks and prosperous white urban women are angry and eager to vote Trump out and any other Republican.

    My wife and self put on the mask, gloves and voted in the primary. We are both seniors. We did not vote by mail or early vote because we knew there would be a good chance our candidate would drop out before the primary which is what happen. I asked poll workers how turn out was. They said good and turn out was not suppressed.

    We are already in a deep recession. And if we relent too soon on the lock down the pandemic will return with a vengeance just before we vote this fall. Something Trump in his ignorance wants done. What if a few old folks die he thinks if the economy will be turned. It is going to be a rocky year at least before that ship can be righted if everything falls into place once we can safely loosen lock down.

    It looks like the attempt to suppress former Floridian felons from voting by the Republican Governor , GOP controlled state house and state senate is not going to stand. The courts are ruling in favor to do what the voters voted for. That alone is a big game changer. This was a citizen sponsored state constitutional amendment. Seems most Floridians think once you pay your debt to society your rights should be returned.

    I hope we have a blowout election and sweep out the grifters and other vermin out of office. But grifters will use any party to grift from. So Democrat are just as vulnerable. We have to be constantly vigilant and not rest our watch.

  8. I live in Waukesha County, but I wasn’t one of the brave ones. My husband and I got absentee ballots well in time for the election. Having said this, I’m proud I got to vote the right candidate in.

    A little intel from behind “enemy lines”. Suddenly, lawn signs that used to only advertise republican candidates are being matched by democrat candidates. People are openly making fun of trump and expressing disgust at the legislature. People who have never voted anything but republican are no longer defending trump and look embarrassed. Does this mean republicans are voting democrat here? Not necessarily, but they’re not enthusiastic and perhaps not as inclined to vote. But dems who have always been hidden away in the deep red are coming out enthusiastically. I think we’ve finally come to the point where enough is enough.

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