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.