Fringe agenda to reverse 2020 election divides Wisconsin GOP
MADISON, Wis. – First, Wisconsin Republicans ordered an audit of the 2020 elections. Then they adopted a series of new restrictions on voting. And in June, they authorized the only special counsel investigation in the country in 2020.
Now, more than 15 months after former President Donald J. Trump lost the state by 20,682 votes, an increasingly vocal segment of the Republican Party supports a new plan: to decertify the results of the presidential election of 2020 in hopes of reinstalling Mr. Trump in the White House.
Wisconsin is closer to the next federal election than the last, but the Republican effort to overturn the election results here is gaining momentum rather than fading — and drifting away from reality as it goes. measure. The latest twist, which has been fueled by Mr. Trump, false legal theories and a new gubernatorial candidate, is creating chaos within the Republican Party and threatening to undermine its efforts to win this year’s contests for governor and the Senate.
The situation in Wisconsin is perhaps the starkest example of Republican leaders struggling to hold their party together when many of its most spirited voters simply won’t come to terms with the reality of Mr. Trump’s loss.
In Wisconsin, Robin Vos, the Speaker of the Assembly who allowed vague fraud theories to spread unchecked, is now struggling to contain them. Even Mr. Vos’s cautious attempts have turned Holocaust deniers strongly against him.
“It’s a real problem,” said Timothy Ramthun, the Republican state representative who has turned his drive to decertify the election into a budding gubernatorial campaign. Mr. Ramthun claimed that if the Wisconsin legislature decertifies the results and voids the state’s 10 electoral votes — an action with no basis in state or federal law — it could spark a move that would oust President Biden from office. its functions.
“We don’t wear tinfoil hats,” he said. “We are not marginal.”
While support for the decertification campaign is difficult to measure, it wouldn’t take much to have an impact in a state where elections are routinely decided by narrow margins. Mr. Ramthun draws crowds and his campaign has already reignited Republicans’ contentious debate over false fraud claims in 2020. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans in Wisconsin were not confident in the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to an October poll from the Marquette University School of Law in Milwaukee.
“That’s just not what the Republican Party needs right now,” said Rob Swearingen, a Republican state representative from conservative Northwoods. “We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves about what happened, you know, a year and a half ago.”
Wisconsin has the most active decertification effort in the nation. In Arizona, a Republican state legislator running for secretary of state, as well as congressional candidates, have called for a recall of the state’s electoral votes. In September, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to Georgian officials asking them to decertify Mr. Biden’s victory there, but no organized effort materialized.
In Wisconsin, the decertification push has upended Republican politics. After more than a decade of Republican leaders marching in step with their base, the party is dogged by infighting and it is the Democrats who are lining up behind Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term in November.
“Republicans are now arguing over whether or not we want democracy,” Mr. Evers said in an interview on Friday.
Mr. Ramthun, a 64-year-old lawmaker who lives in a village of 2,000 people an hour northwest of Milwaukee, pushed his decertification to become a sudden folk hero for the Trump wing of the party. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former adviser, hosted Mr. Ramthun on his podcast. At parties, he exhibits a 72-page presentation in which he claims, erroneously, that lawmakers have the power to declare Wisconsin election results invalid and recall state electoral votes.
Mr. Ramthun received more applause at local Republican rallies than the leading gubernatorial candidates, and last weekend he joined the race himselfannouncing his candidacy at a campaign kickoff where he was introduced by Mike Lindell, the managing director of MyPillow who funded numerous efforts to undermine and nullify the 2020 election.
Mr. Trump offered public words of encouragement.
“Who in Wisconsin is leading the charge to overturn this fraudulent election?” the former president said in a statement.
It didn’t take long before leading Republicans in the state responded to Mr. Ramthun’s campaign plots. Within days, his two Republican rivals for governor published new plans to strengthen partisan control Wisconsin elections.
During a radio appearance on Thursday, former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, the party establishment preferred candidate, refused to admit that Mr. Biden had won the 2020 election – what she had already conceded last September. Ms. Kleefisch declined to be interviewed.
Yet Mr Ramthun claims to have grassroots energy on his side. On Tuesday, he drew a crowd of about 250 people for a two-hour rally in the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Terry Brand, the Republican Party chairman in rural Langlade County, chartered a bus for two dozen people for the three-hour trip. In January, Mr. Brand oversaw the first GOP conviction of Mr. Vos County, calling for the leader’s resignation for blocking the decertification effort. At the rally, Mr. Brand was holding a sign reading “Toss Vos”.
“People are drinking water on this issue,” he said, listening intently as speakers offered both conspiracy theories and assurances to crowd members that they were sane.
“You’re not crazy,” Janel Brandtjen, chairwoman of the Assembly’s Elections Committee, told the crowd.
A speaker linked Mr. Vos, through college roommate and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, to false claims circulating in right-wing media that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had spied on Mr. Trump . Another was introduced under a pseudonym, then quickly announced herself as a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor.
The rally ended with remarks from Harry Wait, an organizer with a Racine County conservative group called Government HOTan acronym for honest, open and transparent.
“I want to remind everyone,” Mr. Wait said, “that the conspiracies of yesterday may be the reality of today.”
Mr. Ramthun says he has questioned the outcome of every presidential election in Wisconsin since 1996. (He is no exception to the only Republican victory of this period: that of Mr. Trump in 2016.) He has pledged to consider ending the use of voting machines and to conduct a “comprehensive and independent forensic physical cyber auditof the 2020 election – and also of the 2022 election, regardless of the outcome.
Mr Ramthun adopted a biblical slogan – ‘Let there be light’ – a reference to his claim that Mr Vos is hiding the truth from voters. If Wisconsin withdraws its electoral votes, Ramthun said, other states could follow.
(U.S. presidents can only be removed from office by impeachment or cabinet vote.)
It all became too much for Mr. Vos, who before the Trump era was a stable Republican foot soldier focused on taxes, spending and labor laws.
Mr. Vos has often appeased his party’s election conspirators, voicing his own doubts about who really won in Wisconsin, calling for felony charges against Wisconsin’s top election administrators and authorizing an investigation into the 2020 election, which are still ongoing.
Now, even as he draws the line on decertification, Mr. Vos has tried to appease his base and plead for patience. He announced this week that the Assembly plans to vote on a new package of ballot bills. (Mr. Evers said in the interview on Friday that he would veto any further restrictions.)
“It’s just a matter of misdirected anger,” he said, of the criticism he faces. “They once assumed the Democrats were hopeless, and now they’re focusing on those of us trying to find out the truth, hoping we do more.”
Other Republicans in the state are also walking a political tightrope – refusing to accept Mr. Biden’s victory while avoiding taking a stand on Mr. Ramthun’s decertification effort.
“Evidence might exist, it’s something other people are working on,” said Ron Tusler, who sits on the Assembly Elections Committee. “It’s too early to be sure, but it’s possible we’ll try later.”
State Senator Kathy Bernier is the only one of Wisconsin’s 82 Republican state lawmakers to have publicly said that Mr. Trump lost the state fairly, without widespread fraud.
Ms. Bernier, chair of the state Senate Elections Committee, in November asked lawyers for the Wisconsin Legislature to rule on the legality of decertifying an election — it is not possible, have they stated. In December, she called at the end to the Assembly’s inquiry into 2020. Three weeks later, she announced she will not seek re-election This year.
“I have no explanation as to why lawmakers want to pursue voter fraud conspiracy theories that have not been proven,” Bernier said in an interview. “They shouldn’t be doing this. It is dangerous for our democratic republic. They need to step back and only talk about things they know, understand and can do. And apart from that, they should button it up.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.