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Why Wisconsin's GOP Might Blink
And why it might not.
Catching up before the weekend:
Here comes Zelensky. “Zelensky to Meet With Biden in Washington Next Week” - The New York Times
My Kevin’s week from hell, continued. “McCarthy dares GOP detractors to 'file the f---ing motion' if they want to remove him” - NBC News
The GOP’s counter-programming gets mixed reviews. “Americans divided on House Republicans' Biden impeachment probe” -Reuters/Ipsos
The Biden deep state DOJ indicts a Biden. “Hunter Biden indicted on gun charges in special counsel investigation” —CNN
And, in my home state, a win for the Big Lie:
Wisconsin Senate Republicans fire elections chief Meagan Wolfe — Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Wolfe oversees a commission that has been under fire for three years because of false claims put forward by Trump to persuade supporters he actually won an election he lost and because of policies commissioners approved during the 2020 presidential election to navigate hurdles presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by about 21,000 votes — a result that has been confirmed by two recounts paid by Trump, state audits, a partisan review, a conservative study and multiple lawsuits.
But Trump has continued to lie about the result of Wisconsin's last presidential election, bolstering the beliefs of those who do not believe Biden is a legitimate president, many of whom have made Wolfe the symbol of the false claims because of her position at the elections commission.
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The WI GOP Playing With Fire
I think it’s safe to say that the politics in Wisconsin right now are… complicated.
The supporters of the Big Lie notched a win of sorts Thursday, but the messy firing of the state’s elections chief, Meagan Wolfe, is now headed to the courts, which may be even a messier story.
The shortish version: Wolfe is widely respected and had bipartisan support, but MAGA demanded a head on a spike. Via AP: “Wolfe has been the subject of conspiracy theories and target for threats from election skeptics who falsely claim she was part of a plan to rig the 2020 vote in Wisconsin, and GOP leaders cited concerns from those skeptics in justifying Thursday’s 22-11 vote along party lines.”
Some of you might recall the bizarre and shambolic “investigation” of the 2020 election by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos launched Gableman’s probe in an attempt to appease election denialists — a decision he later came to bitterly regret. The former justice blew through more than $1 million in taxpayer money, uncovered few problems, and repeatedly beclowned himself. Vos fired Gabelman in 2022, days after calling him “an embarrassment to the state.”
But the hangover lingered. Even as his probe descended into farce, Gabelman lashed out at Wolfe, singling her out for her appearance at one point.
"Black dress, white pearls — I’ve seen the act, I’ve seen the show," Gableman said on WTAQ-AM of Meagan Wolfe, director of the Elections Commission.
When host Joe Giganti said he recently saw Wolfe wearing a gold locket rather than pearls, Gableman responded, "Oh, Hillary Clinton."
This brings us to the even messier story: the GOP’s threat to impeach a newly elected Supreme Court Justice.
Last week, I described the move as “a power play within a putsch inside a political blunder. The collateral damage will be staggering.”
That should be obvious, and Speaker Vos is a smart politician. But it’s not clear that he can resist the temptation to take a dive that will set a dangerous precedent for the independence of the judiciary, destroy his reputation, and set off a chaotic and unpredictable chain reaction that could shift the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.
Indeed, the scheme set off a firestorm, and Democrats quickly announced a $4 million campaign targeting the Republican attack on the court. More national money was on the way, and insiders began talking about the possibility of a $100 million do-over special election.
The flood of money focused GOP minds marvelously.
Earlier this week, Vos seemed to blink, softening his tone and proposing what he called an “off-ramp.” But the Vos gambit — essentially adopting Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting plan — was quickly rejected by Democrats who (1) don’t trust Vos, and (2) pointed out that Vos’s proposal still gave the GOP legislative super-majority veto power over the new maps.
Vos quickly revived the idea of impeachment, saying that he was “asking a panel of former members of the state supreme court to review and advise what the criteria are for impeachment and to be able to go to the next step of this process.” It’s unclear who is on the panel or what it might recommend, but the GOP’s dangerous game of judicial chicken continues.
Belatedly, Republicans seem to recognize that undoing the election could generate a massive blowback (state Democrats are already pursuing a multimillion-dollar campaign to oppose the effort), and they may yet decide that holding onto power is worth the price.
But the price could be much higher than they expect. Erasing the votes of more than a million Wisconsinites could permanently alienate the swing voters who have been edging away from the GOP in recent elections. The ads write themselves.
And a do-over election next year would be an electoral nightmare for the GOP.
If Protasiewicz resigns or is removed, then whoever Evers appoints would stand for election in the spring of 2024, an election that would inevitably be about democracy and the rule of law — as well as abortion.
Wisconsin has a 19th century law on the books that bans almost all abortions, and its fate will be decided by the state’s high court. A 4-3 conservative court would almost certainly uphold the ban; a 4-3 progressive court would almost certainly overturn it.
Last spring’s race — the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history — became a proxy referendum on the ban. And it wasn’t close.
If Republicans now choose to force a replay, a do-over post-impeachment vote guarantees that abortion would again be the dominant issue in this swing state throughout the presidential election year.
The bottom line: The GOP attack on democracy could be fatal. For the GOP.
All of this may now be dawning on the party.
Did the FBI Get a Pass on Jan 6?
On the latest episode of The Trump Trials, Lawfare’s Ben Wittes and I discuss why Mitt Romney’s text message to Mitch McConnell renews questions about what law enforcement knew ahead of the attack on the Capitol. Plus, the weak counter-programming planned for Trump’s prosecutions, and Trump’s foolish ploy against Judge Chutkan.
1. Why Isn’t a Mainstream Democrat Challenging Biden 2024?
The election is more than a year away, and Biden’s polling might improve. Another 14 months of surging wages and declining inflation could give his campaign the “Morning in America” feel it has thus far lacked. On the other hand, if the economy sputters, or if Biden suffers a health setback that reinforces the public’s already serious doubts about his fitness, it could get even worse. For an incumbent presiding over peace and prosperity to be effectively trailing an indicted felon feels terrifying. And it undercuts one of the central rationales of both Biden’s 2020 run and his reelection campaign: that he is best positioned in the Democratic field to stave off the threat of a second Trump term.
The strangest thing about this harrowing circumstance is that no mainstream Democrat is challenging Biden for the nomination. The hunger for such a challenge certainly exists: A CNN poll finds two-thirds of Democrats want their party to nominate somebody else. There isn’t much mystery as to why. The same poll asked Democrats what concerns they may have about Biden and found that two-thirds cited his age, his health, his mental sharpness, or his vice-president, all of which amount to the same thing. The demand for a different option is robust. What is mystifyingly absent is the supply.
2. The Democrats' Oliver Anthony Problem
The fact that Democrats responded with visceral dislike to a song that expressed the complicated populist views of an actual working-class person shows how unwelcoming the party has become to actual working-class people, as opposed to mythological proletarians who combine hatred of (Republican) corporations with reverence for “Bidenomics” and careful usage of all the approved intersectional language.
3. Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson review – arrested development
Who or what is to blame for Elon Musk? Famed biographer of intellectually muscular men Walter Isaacson’s dull, insight-free doorstop of a book casts a wide but porous net in search of an answer.
Throughout the tome, Musk’s confidantes, co-workers, ex-wives and girlfriends present a DSM-5’s worth of psychiatric and other theories for the “demon moods” that darken the lives of his subordinates, and increasingly the rest of us, among them bipolar disorder, OCD, and the form of autism formerly known as Asperger’s. But the idea that any of these conditions are what makes Musk an “asshole” (another frequently used descriptor of him in the book), while also making him successful in his many pursuits, is an insult to all those affected by them who manage to change the world without leaving a trail of wounded people, failing social networks and general despair behind them. The answer, then, must lie elsewhere.
There’s a lot to work with here, but it doesn’t make reading this book any easier. Isaacson comes from the “his eyes lit up” school of cliched writing, the rest of his prose workmanlike bordering on AI.
I drove my espresso machine hard into the night to survive both craft and subject matter. It feels as though, for instance, there are hundreds of pages from start to finish relaying the same scene: Musk trying to reduce the cost of various mundane objects so that he can make more money and fulfil his dream of moving himself (and possibly the lot of us) to Mars, where one or two examples would have been enough. To his credit, Isaacson is a master at chapter breaks, pausing the narrative when one of Musk’s rockets explodes or he gets someone pregnant, and then rewarding the reader with a series of photographs that assuages the boredom until the next descent into his protagonist’s wild but oddly predictable life. Again, it’s not all the author’s fault. To go from Einstein to Musk in only five volumes is surely an indication that humanity isn’t sending Isaacson its best.