Donald Trump at the Road to Majority conference at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. | Photo by John Partipilo for the Tennessee Lookout
It is just astounding that Wisconsin Republicans continue to push their “election integrity” nonsense, even as the world watches the dramatic Jan. 6 hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, presenting compelling evidence that then-President Donald Trump riled up a violent mob with false claims of “election fraud” and attempted to steal the 2020 presidential election.
This week’s hearings will focus specifically on Wisconsin’s role in the conspiracy to steal the election. Republican officials in our state, along with their co-conspirators in six other states, sent fake electoral ballots for Trump to Washington, knowingly violating the Electoral Vote Count Act, in order to lay the groundwork for Trump’s false claim that the results were “disputed” and the legitimate Electoral College vote should be overturned.
As Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), co-chair of the bipartisan U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, explained last week, Trump’s lawyer, Eastman’s scheme was to have Pence pretend the fake electors were real and declare Trump the winner.
Pence lawyer Greg Jacob thoroughly researched that idea, presenting his findings in a memo to the vice president and, he testified to the House committee, he and Pence came to the conclusion that there was no way the framers would have put one person with a vested interest in the outcome of the election in a position to have such a decisive impact on the outcome.
Pence’s insistence on upholding the Constitution nearly got him killed by the mob Trump riled up to charge the Capitol looking for him. Last week we learned that the “hang Pence” crowd came within 40 feet of their target.
Meanwhile, here in Wisconsin last Wednesday, the Republican National Committee held an “Election Integrity Roundtable” at Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club — a bar and restaurant that also served as headquarters, many years ago, for the ill-fated movement of libertarian-minded tavern owners to quash Madison’s smoking ban. The Esquire happens to be a few blocks from my house. I drove by and saw a crowd gathered outside, holding up letters that spelled out “voters decide.”
Inside, at the private, invitation-only roundtable (and at similar events it plans to hold around the state) the RNC claimed it was “informing volunteers how they can become poll observers.”
But the voting rights advocates who showed up denounced the “poll observer” drive as nothing more than an effort to intimidate likely Democratic voters in larger cities this fall.
“The RNC is not welcome here,” said Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, who spoke to the protesters gathered in the parking lot outside the Esquire Club. This is the same group, he noted, that called the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “legitimate political discourse.”
“It’s the whole weird cognitive dissonance that we’re facing,” Rothschild said after the protest was over. “The Jan. 6 hearings are showing beyond any reasonable doubt that Trump was up to his eyeballs in these crimes and started the Big Lie, and here we have Republicans trying to recruit poll workers to harass voters and spreading the Big Lie to try to grab more and more power.”
In Wisconsin we badly need some Republicans with the courage of Pence and Cheney — who memorably told her Republican colleagues in her opening statement of the Jan. 6 hearings, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. Your dishonor will remain.”
Wisconsin Republicans need to take that message to heart and get out of the shadow of Trump. They need to stand up and reject the disgraceful spectacle of Michael Gableman’s partisan election review and the contempt for the institutions of our democracy Trump, Gableman and Wisconsin’s fake electors represent.
One hopeful sign is that Don Millis, the new Republican Wisconsin Elections Commissions chair chosen by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is not a member of the Big Lie coalition. Vos has been trying to have it both ways, appeasing the Trumpist base by claiming to be concerned about “widespread fraud” in Wisconsin in 2020 and appointing Gableman to “investigate” it, while at the same time rejecting the fantasy that the 2020 election results could be overturned and that Wisconsin could recall its electoral votes — an act Vos has publicly stated is legally impossible.
The other day, shortly after the event at the Esquire Club, I was walking through my neighborhood when I passed the house of a prominent Republican lawyer who has represented the Republican leaders of the state Legislature in their numerous lawsuits to try to seize powers from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, to overturn pandemic public health orders and to gerrymander permanent Republican majorities into power in this evenly divided state. As far as I know, he hasn’t taken a position on the fake electors.
I noticed a large American flag hanging over his porch. What does that flag mean to the Trump-captured GOP, I wondered. Is it a symbol of American constitutional democracy? Of a free society? Or is it the standard of the violent mob that stormed the Capitol, the fake electors who sought to overturn an election by canceling legitimate votes and installing an anti-democratic, authoritarian regime?
Republicans in Wisconsin need to ask themselves that question. Our future in this state and as a nation is going to depend on it.
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