Time for Republicans to face reality

Trump lost. Get the hook.

President Trump in the last presidential debate
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 22: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the last debate between the two candidates before the election on November 3. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Even Trump apologist and conspiracy theorist Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has admitted that he knows Trump lost the election — but says it would be “political suicide” to say so in public, according to former Brown County Republican Party chair Mark Becker.

That’s even worse than Trump campaign attorney Jim Troupis inadvertently arguing that his own vote was “illegal” and should be thrown out, after reporters pointed out that his name appeared in an exhibit he submitted while urging the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of early voters in Dane County. 

At least Troupis had the decency to attempt to disenfranchise himself, along with all those other voters. Johnson is attempting to dodge responsibility for undermining democracy and the truth, shrugging it off, according to Becker, by explaining that he has to lie to save his own skin. 

On Wednesday, the chief federal judge for Wisconsin’s Eastern District Pamela Pepper rebuked Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood for their shoddy legal work in a suit demanding Trump be declared the winner in Wisconsin which included a plaintiff who said he had not consented to join the lawsuit and a demand for video surveillance footage of voting in the TFC Center — a convention center located in Michigan, among other gross missteps.

How much more of this can the Republican brand take? After all, Trump is a loser. Does the GOP intend to keep him as their standard bearer, sulking and throwing tantrums about his loss for the next four years? Is that really a good political strategy?

Most importantly, can our democracy recover from Trump? By seeking to undermine president-elect Joe Biden’s legitimacy from the start, spreading lies about voter fraud and stirring up paranoia and distrust in our democratic institutions, the Republicans appear to be willing to help Trump make the country ungovernable and to destroy any prospect of a functional democracy. They are following Trump down his path of destruction right into the abyss in order to appease his base.

That’s not just a dubious political choice, it’s immoral.

So it’s been heartening to see, in swing states across the country, some Republican officials who have decided enough is enough.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey appeared to ignore a cell phone call from the White House as he signed the papers certifying Biden’s win. (Trump was reduced to angrily tweeting at Ducey after the fact, complaining that he was “rushing to put a Democrat in office”.) In Michigan, Republican legislative leaders were unmoved by a visit to the White House and a follow-up pressure campaign, and have refused to intervene to upend Biden’s clear victory in their state. In Georgia, a deputy for Republican Secretary of State  Brad Raffensperger condemned Trump for abetting threats of violence against a 20-year-old voting equipment technician with specious claims that the technician manipulated voting data, leading to death threats against her and her family. Georgia also certified Biden’s win.

In Pennsylvania, Trump campaign arguments about fraudulent ballots, backed up by no evidence, were laughed out of court

Here in Wisconsin, where the president and his allies have filed three separate petitions to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Washington Post suggests that Trump may have his “best shot” at getting a court to overturn the will of the voters.

The Post quotes Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, stating that of all Trump’s cases, the Wisconsin lawsuit offers the greatest chance of a favorable ruling,. “‘It’s his best shot,’ Foley said. “These are not claims of fraud, and they’re not wild national conspiracy theories. They are talking about technical rules. Sometimes technical rules aren’t followed, and they should have been.”

The “technical rules” Trump is questioning in Wisconsin are longstanding voting practices that, if overturned after the fact, would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.

The case only looks good when compared to Trump efforts like the lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where Rudy Guliani showed up in court to make claims of hundreds of thousands of fake ballots that a judge in Pennsylvania characterized as “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by evidence.”   

Trump is arguing that people who took advantage of Wisconsin’s early voting window to vote in person before election day should have their ballots thrown out (including his own lawyer).

Absentee ballots from elderly and sick people who are indefinitely confined should also be thrown away, according to the Trump lawsuit.

So should those in which minor errors on ballot envelopes were corrected by local clerks, as allowed under the same rules that were in effect when Trump won in 2016. 

Worst of all, only the ballots in the Democratic strongholds of Dane and Milwaukee counties should be purged, according to Trump. People who voted the same way, under the same rules, in other areas of the state would still have their votes counted if Trump’s challenge to Dane and Milwaukee counties is successful.

That’s nothing but an effort to rig the election after the fact.  

Republicans know how outrageous that is, even if, like Johson, they don’t want to say so in public. 

In its response to Trump’s lawsuits, the Evers administration calls the effort “a shocking and outrageous assault on our democracy,” adding that “by focusing on alleged technical violations in only two counties, he has made plain that his intent is not to fairly determine who Wisconsinites voted for to lead our country. He is simply trying to seize Wisconsin’s electoral votes, even though he lost the statewide election.”

Evers’ response also points out that Trump filed his petition in the wrong court, given that the statutes clearly state that an appeal of a recount should be filed in circuit court.

Furthermore, the respondents point out that Trump should have raised the issues about voting processes that were in place long before this election, instead of seeking to throw out votes afterward.

It does not look likely that Trump will be any more successful overturning the election results in Wisconsin than he has been in other states. 

The three lawsuits by Trump and his allies in Wisconsin are “very unlikely to amount to anything with regard to the results of the Nov. 3, 2020 election,” says Jeffrey Mandell, one of the attorneys for Evers who drafted the response to the Trump lawsuit.

The bigger concern is that the spate of attacks on Wisconsin elections procedures will become the basis for efforts to restrict votes in future. 

“It’s all made up. It’s all nonsense,” says Mandell. “But if they repeat it enough, does it gain currency so it can be turned into policy?”

In a recent article for CNN Ron Brownstein compares Republicans’ reluctance to confront Trump to what happened in the 1950s, when Republicans refused to condemn Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) during the height of the Red Scare. Wisconsinites still carry scars from that era.

“In McCarthy’s era, most of the GOP’s leaders found excuses to avoid challenging conspiracy theories that they knew to be implausible, even as evidence of their costs to the nation steadily mounted,” Brownstein writes.

Today, as Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, put it at a briefing by the National Task Force on Election Crises, “The fact that we have a president who continually tries to discredit the election results and attack election officials, including Republican election officials is more than disquieting, it’s despicable.”

“I believe that the lawsuit filed by the President of the United States has no merit,” Evers said when asked at a press conference about the Trump campaign’s efforts to disqualify a couple hundred thousand ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

Calling the election “fair,” “very free” and “accurate,” Evers added,  “at the end of the day, numbers don’t lie.”

In certifying the results, he added, he was “following the law and frankly, following procedures that were done four years ago that amazingly no one had problems with.”  

Trump won in 2016 under the same rules he is challenging now. He is challenging those rules only in Democratic areas of the state. He and his allies are alleging voter fraud and seeking to upend the results of elections only in states that Biden won. 

The whole Trump legal effort is a transparent farce.

In his account of his conversation with Johnson in The Bulwark, Becker writes, “Our discussion was mostly based in reality.”

“The senator understands Joe Biden’s victory,” Becker asserts. “The problem is he refuses to live in that reality publicly, because of political considerations.”

Unless we insist that our political leaders live in reality, we are in for a very scary, chaotic time.

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.