Bedraggled Wisconsin GOP Tries For A Comeback-- But Needs Trump To Pipe Down

Derrick Van Orden is a Wisconsin crackpot who ran for Congress against right-wing Democrat Ron Kind in 2020-- a real lesser of two evils contest. Although Al Gore, John Kerry andObama all won the district, Hillary lost it by about 5 points. Last year, Trump won the R+4 district 51.5% to 46.8% but Kind managed to beat Van Orden 199,870 (51.3%) to 189,524 (48.7%). Van Orden, a "stop the steal" rioter, wants a rematch. Unfortunately, he paid for the trip to the riot on Capitol Hill with $4,000 in leftover campaign cash. Trump stooges Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Elise Stefanik-- as well as Wiaconin wing-nuts Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald-- have endorsed him and the NRCC is working hard for him. His use of campaign money for the riot was illegal since it was not-- at least in theory-- "directly related to the campaign."

"Campaign accounts are not personal slush funds," said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for campaign finance watchdog Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility. "They must be used for campaign-related activities. Attempting to overthrow an election you just lost is not a proper campaign activity. If he did use his campaign to pay for travel for him and his staff to attend the rally-turned-insurrection, it would raise serious questions about his compliance with campaign finance laws." That isn't likely to bother Wisconsin Republicans, who are mostly all-in on the insurrection. That district, however, is won or lost by independents and swing voters-- who do not feel the insurrection was justified.

This past weekend, the Wisconsin Republican Party had their annual convention which mostly gathered media coverage for the disjointed comments from Ron Johnson, practicing Trump-quality projectionism. "The leaders of the left talk about fundamentally transforming this nation. Do you even like, much less love, something you want to fundamentally transform?" Johnson asked. "America’s not perfect; we had that original sin from slavery, but we’ve made progress. We’ve continuously improved. That’s not good enough for the left... We’re not going to do that by being angry. We’re not going to do that by imitating what (liberals) do, by being nasty. We’re going to do that by allowing light to pierce the darkness... Take back our school boards, our county boards, our city councils. We will take back our culture. We don't have to fear this anymore."

Johnson, who married into wealth and tries to portray himself as a self-made multimillionaire is widely considered by his colleagues as one of the angriest and nastiest members of the Senate.

This morning, David Siders reported on another aspect of the convention and the Wisconsin GOP, something that has gotten less coverage-- the party, except for Johnson, trying to inch away from Trump, who many now see as an albatross is swingy states like Wisconsin. When Trump issued a statement right before the convention tearing into Assembly speaker, Robin Vos and Senate majority leader Devin LeMahieu, no one paid much attention. "When Vos and Devin LeMahieu," wrote Siders, "took the stage on Saturday in front of some of the party’s most fervent pro-Trump activists, it was as though Trump had said nothing at all. There were no boos. Vos drew applause. Convention-goers dismissed an effort to censure him." Trump failed in his goal of setting off the same kind of intra-party chaos he has done all over the country. Trump's "comments were dismissed with a roll of the eyes. 'I just think it’s been going on for so long that people are kind of tired of it,' said Tony Kurtz, a GOP assemblyman from rural Juneau County, which went for Trump last year by nearly 30 percentage points."

Trump remains wildly popular among Wisconsin Republicans-- no less than in other states-- and the belief in his false claim that the election was rigged is widespread, underpinning a raft of elections-related legislation passed by Republican lawmakers in the state this month. At the state convention, activists cheered for Trump when organizers played a recorded message in which Trump repeated his falsehood that he carried the state in November. The convention included a panel on election law changes, the state party homepage prominently features an “election integrity dashboard” and delegates carried tote bags that read “Defend secure elections.”
Brian Jennings, chair of the GOP in Florence County, a sparsely populated Trump stronghold in northern Wisconsin, said “Trump is the Republican Party right now,” and on the sidelines of the convention, several delegates said Trump was right that Vos hadn’t done enough to overturn the results of the election.
But unlike in states like Georgia and Arizona, there wasn’t widespread interest in purging the state’s Assembly speaker for it — a departure from Trump’s dominion over the Republican Party’s apparatus in the states.
“That’s Wisconsin for you,” said Helmut Fritz, a delegate from Milwaukee who sits on the state party’s credentials committee. “Trump isn’t the dictator.”
...But for the purposes of the Wisconsin state convention, he had all but invited attendees to engage in a pile-on. In his statement issued the night before Vos spoke, Trump, seeking to stoke grassroots outrage, accused Vos, LeMahieu and state Sen. Chris Kapenga of “working hard to cover up election corruption … actively trying to prevent a Forensic Audit.”
“Don’t fall for their lies!” Trump wrote. “These REPUBLICAN ‘leaders’ need to step up and support the people who elected them by providing them a full forensic investigation. If they don’t, I have little doubt that they will be primaried and quickly run out of office.”
On Sunday, a Trump adviser said the former president remains “adamant about doing audits” and “is going to keep up pressure on Republicans to have the courage to do it.”
So far this year and in other states, Trump’s broadsides against Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal to him have been met with enthusiasm from activists. Utah Republicans heckled Romney, an outspoken Trump critic, at their state convention in May. Republicans in Georgia booed Kemp. The GOP governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, was censured by his party for his lack of fealty to Trump.
At the convention in Wisconsin, it was a different story. One delegate deleted Trump’s statement from his phone, saying he wished Trump would “shut up, and I’m a big Trump supporter.” Another delegate said he hadn’t even bothered to read it.
David Blaska, a former Dane County supervisor who worked as a speechwriter for former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, said “a lot of people still believe the election was stolen.” But the fact they weren’t jeering Vos, he said, was a “good sign.”
Standing at the back of the convention hall, Blaska said the party is “hopefully moving on.”
...In a sign that Trump’s supremacy isn’t absolute, Vos went further than many other Republican have been willing to, aligning himself with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who in a speech last month clashed with Trump when he said, “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or of second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere.”
One important distinction in Wisconsin is the state party’s history — it is more firmly rooted than most. Ten years ago, Wisconsin was the Republican Party’s leading light. Ryan was ascendant, soon to become the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, then House speaker. Walker was beginning his first term as governor, waging a war on unions that would serve as a model for conservatives across the country. The state’s former GOP chair, Reince Priebus, ran the national party.
Today, the state party has been set back. After cresting in 2016, with Trump’s upset of Hillary Clinton, Republicans here lost the governorship in 2018, then saw the state flip to Joe Biden two years later. Johnson, the state’s top elected Republican, has not yet said if he’ll run for reelection (On Saturday, he told reporters he won’t announce a decision for “quite some time.”)
“It’s still a place [people] look to,” Walker said. “But it’s usually for things that have happened in the past.”
Yet a comeback for the GOP in Wisconsin could be just a year away. Trump lost the state by fewer than 21,000 votes in 2020. Republicans still control the state legislature, and the party has a credible chance of unseating Tony Evers, the Democratic governor, next year.

One way to keep the GOP from winning in Wisconsin again is to nominate a strong progressive to take on Johnson for the Senate seat. The Democrats have some real loser candidates lined up, including son-of-a-billionaire Alex Lasry, the status quo-supporting state treasurer, Sarah Godlewski and possibly Ron Kind. There is one outstanding, proven progressive champion, Chris Larson, endorsed by Blue America and the PCCC. If you'd like to help Chris win the primary and defeat Ron Johnson, please tap on the 2022 ActBlue Senate thermometer on the left and contribute what you can.