A Uniquely Dangerous Moment
Plus: Wisconsin goes MAGA
Back in the mists of the Before Times — in April 2016 — Wisconsin Republicans handed Donald Trump one of his worst primary defeats. Some of us thought it would be a firewall against Trumpism. Instead, it was a speed bump.
But it was a painful speed bump for Trump. The day after his shellacking by the pre-Reek Ted Cruz, Trump raged:
Lyin' Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him. Not only was he propelled by the anti-Trump Super PAC's spending countless millions of dollars on false advertising against Mr. Trump, but he was coordinating with his own Super PAC's (which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet--- he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.
A reminder: Trump has never been a gracious loser.
So last night’s Wisconsin primary represented more than just another victory for a Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate.
For the Wisconsin GOP, the result was a stark about-face, and a pretty thorough repudiation of the party’s pre-Trump identity. (I’m old enough to remember when Paul Ryan was the WI GOP’s idea of The Future.)
Consider this: Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch had the backing of the party’s Scott Walker-era establishment, as well as the business and law enforcement communities. She was endorsed by Mike Pence, but also by Nikki Haley, Cruz, and Walker himself. A former television anchor in Milwaukee, Kleefisch has been a familiar face for more than a decade; and had spent years cultivating the GOP’s grassroots.
Her opponent was an out-of-state, not-ready-for-primetime, somewhat dim, last-minute entrant, who had been politically absent since losing a spectacularly lackluster Senate bid back in 2004. Tim Michels spent much of the campaign dodging the media, skipping debates, and sweating profusely when he did show up.
All Michels really had going for him (besides money) was the endorsement of Donald J. Trump, a willingness to parrot MAGA rhetoric, and an incapacity for independent thought.
There were no substantive philosophical issues between the candidates. They both ran hard to the right, and Kleefisch did her best to curry favor with the MAGA base.
But Michels was willing to pander harder and embrace Trump’s lies with more enthusiasm, and it paid off with the blessing of Mar-a-Lago.
It was all he needed.
Michels won easily, because this is now what Republicans voters in my home state want.
At the same time, another Trump-backed candidate came within inches of defeating the state’s most powerful GOP legislator, Robin Vos, the assembly speaker who has refused to break the law by decertifying the 2020 presidential election.
As readers of Morning Shots know, Vos has become a poster child for Failed Trump Suck-ups. Desperately trying to appease the fringiest election deniers, Vos authorized a costly, pointless, and ultimately absurd “investigation” of the election, headed by a former state supreme court justice, Michael Gableman, whom I have described elsewhere as a supersized, one-man clown car. It wasn’t enough.
When Vos tried to explain to Trump that he could not overturn the results of the election, the Orange God King turned on him . . . and so did Gableman, who endorsed his challenger.
In a last-minute audio advertisement for [Vos’s opponent], Gableman claimed that "Vos never wanted a real investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin" as Gableman has continued claiming he uncovered fraud and a stolen election, despite no substantial evidence of either.
The upshot was a moment of exquisite irony.
After securing his narrow win, Vos declared that Gableman was an “embarrassment to this state.”
But it was Vos who authorized, appointed, and spent $1 million in taxpayer money on the “embarrassment.”
Like so many other Republican leaders, Vos imagined that he could grow the baby alligator in the bathtub, toss it occasional bits of red meat, and that it wouldn’t grow up, crawl out, and begin eating people. He didn’t think it would come for him.
If only he had been warned. . . .
A uniquely dangerous moment
“I would like nothing more than to be wrong about this,” writes Dana Milbank in the Wapo. “But the reckless response by the GOP-Fox News axis to the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago makes it feel as though we’re falling into the abyss.”
I, too, would like him to be wrong. But he’s not.
The threat of political violence from far-right extremists has been growing for years, but calls to arms reached a fever pitch in pro-Trump social media after Monday’s court-ordered search at former president Donald Trump’s Florida compound: “When does the shooting start?” “Summertime was made for killing fields.” “Lock and load.” “Tomorrow is war.” “Pick up arms, people.”
In such a dangerous and unstable time, we need political and opinion leaders to appeal for calm. Instead, Fox News and other conservative outlets exploded with talk of “war” and “assassination,” an “attack” on the country and Trump supporters, and calls for revenge against a “corrupt” American “KGB.” Elected Republicans erupted in cries about the “weaponized politicization” done by a Democratic “Gestapo” and a “tyrannical FBI,” and about the need to “make sure these tyrants pay the price.” They called for retribution: “Destroy the FBI.” “No one is safe.” “You’re next.” “They’re coming for YOU.”
Meanwhile, House GOP “conservatives”:
For some in the wooly precincts of the MAGA right, the call to arms was literal. As Vice reported, some Trumpists were explicit: “‘Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,’ one user wrote on Twitter, with another adding, ‘One step closer to a kinetic civil war.’ Others said they were ready to take part: ‘I already bought my ammo.’” Steve Bannon, who was pardoned for bilking Trump supporters who thought they were building a wall, declared that “This is war” and called the FBI the “Gestapo.”
Two years ago, in congressional and state elections, Republican candidates accused Democrats of supporting proposals to “defund” or “abolish” police. Actually, although anti-police slogans were widespread on social media and among protesters, very few Democratic officeholders supported these ideas. But Republicans didn’t let those facts get in the way. They smeared the whole Democratic party as an agent of crime and chaos.
Monday’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago—reportedly in pursuit of classified documents that former President Donald Trump may have illegally kept when he left office—has turned this issue upside down. Now that law enforcement has targeted Trump, conservatives are denouncing the FBI. Some want to defund the bureau; others are demanding its complete abolition. Here are some of the more egregious reversals….
This is what negative partisanship looks like
Large and growing shares in each party describe the members of the other party as more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent than other Americans. For example, 72% of Republicans now view Democrats as a lot or somewhat more immoral than other Americans, up from 47% in 2016. The shift has been similar in Democrats’ views of Republicans; 63% describe them as more immoral, compared with 35% six years ago.
The survey, conducted June 27- July 4 among 6,174 U.S. adults on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, finds further evidence of widespread negative partisanship.
Majorities in both parties – 62% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats express very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party. While these views have changed little in recent years, in 1994 fewer than a quarter in both parties rated the other party very unfavorably.
Moreover, the belief that the opposing party’s policies are harmful to the country remains a major factor in why Republicans and Democrats choose to affiliate with their party. In both parties, about as many cite the negative effects from the opposing party as the positive impact of their own party’s policies as a major reason for their decision to identify with a party.
This is what negative partisanship looks like in two charts: