Ron Johnson’s last stand

Wisconsin's Trump apologists are taking American democracy down with the ship

Sen. Ron Johnson with a U.S. coast guard cap in front of a drug-seizing boat
Sen. Ron Johnson via Facebook

On a scale from sane to full Ron Johnson, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) seems to be trying to stake out the middle ground. Together with six Republican colleagues in Congress, Gallagher released a statement expressing “outrage” at the “reckless adoption of mail-in ballots” for the presidential election during the pandemic, and decried state election officials’ unspecified failures to make sure only “legitimate votes” would count. But unlike Johnson, who is one of a dozen Senators planning to object to the election results on Wednesday, Gallagher is stopping short of refusing to vote to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. 

“Congress has only a narrow role in the presidential election process,” Gallagher soberly explained in a statement joined by Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). “Its job is to count the electors submitted by the states, not to determine which electors the states should have sent.”

Sending an alternate slate of Republican electors was an option open to Republican state legislators, Gallagher and his colleagues helpfully pointed out. 

In the six swing states where the Trump campaign made its accusations of fraud, “five have legislatures that are controlled by Republicans,” Gallagher and company note. Those include Wisconsin and Georgia, where Trump tried some now-famous last-minute arm-twisting in his weekend phone call demanding that Republican state officials “find” him enough votes to overturn Biden’s win.

Republican-controlled swing states “all have the power to send a new slate of electoral votes to Congress if they deem such action appropriate under state law,” Gallagher and company wrote. But since that hasn’t happened, they are forced by the U.S. Constitution to go along with the clear results.

In other words, it’s not our job to steal the election for Trump, say Gallagher and his courageous band of Congressional colleagues; that’s up to the states.

Trump obviously agrees, which is why he is busy bashing Georgia’s governor and secretary of state for not fixing the results for him. 

You’d think the Republicans would tire of being lackeys for a criminally insane president whom the voters have already fired. Especially when you consider that Trump apparently couldn’t care less about the fate of his party or whether his baseless bellyaching about corruption and fraud might be hurting Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Tuesday’s tight Georgia Senate races, which will determine which party controls Congress.

All Trump cares about is Trump.

What does the rest of his party care about?

Chuck Todd put that question to Sen. Ron Johnson on Sunday on “Meet the Press,” where the senior senator from Wisconsin explained that he will not perform his ministerial duty and vote to certify the election results because Congress needs to hold hearings to address the concerns of “tens of millions of Americans who think this election was stolen” — a belief Johnson has been stoking, without evidence, for months. 

“Why didn’t you hold hearings on the 9/11 truthers?” Todd asked. “How about the moon landing? Are you going to hold hearings on that?”

Not to be outdone, Johnson said he wanted to hold hearings on “why did we not spend hundreds of billions of dollars exploring early treatment” for COVID-19, including quack remedies promoted by “courageous doctors.”

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It doesn’t matter. Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory will be certified on Wednesday and on Jan. 20 he will be sworn in. Instead of promoting bleach and light bulbs as COVID cures, we’ll have an administration that has promised to pick up the pieces Trump dropped in the vaccine rollout, and make beating back the pandemic a national priority.

Of course, some Republicans, including Johnson, will probably try to stir up the anti-vaxxers, an opportune constituency for them, along with the anti-maskers and “freedom” fighters pledged to resist common sense public health measures in the name of individual rights.

Johnson and his party have exacerbated the terrible toll of this deadly pandemic, politicizing it and showing a callous disregard for human life. Saving lives, Johnson said at the beginning of the pandemic, had to be weighed against saving the economy. But when Trump recently called for increasing COVID-19 relief checks for struggling families from $600 to $2,000 Johnson took a stand against that measure, and even opposed a more modest bipartisan proposal for $1,200 checks, saying he was concerned about balancing the federal budget. That’s a topic which, strangely, never came up when he was helping craft massive tax cuts, including one for pass-through corporations like his own, from which he personally benefited to the tune of more than $200,000.

As bad as the profiteering and preventable illness and deaths have been, the longest lasting effects of the cravenness of Trump’s enablers will be on U.S. democracy, which they have shown they are willing to throw under the bus. 

As Johnson’s fellow Ayn Rand acolyte former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) put it in a statement on Monday, citing the lack of evidence of voter fraud and the Trump campaign’s failed efforts to overturn election results in court, “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans.”

“The fact that this effort will fail,” he added, “does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.”

The partisans of Trumpworld are playing their cynical game to the end — pretending they believe their own nonsense about widespread election fraud in order to appease their conspiracy-minded base. 

As with those quack remedies Johnson likes to promote, there are bound to be some bad side effects.

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.