No one can take any glee over the booing that Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos received this weekend during the Republican State Party Convention. While it can be easily framed into a partisan moment where the extreme excesses of Donald Trump’s base were on full display, it is the larger concern about our precarious democracy that matters far more.
It was a most unusual scene to have occurred at a gathering of a political party. The State Assembly leader was booed by convention-goers which made for a gripping moment on newscasts statewide.
What was most troubling, however, was that Vos did not wander off the page of Republican orthodoxy so to receive such a reaction. He did not suggest raising any tax or offering more regulatory control. He did not backtrack from school vouchers or hint at gun control measures.
No, Vos instead simply and plainly told the crowd there’s no pathway to decertifying the 2020 presidential election.
“We have no ability to decertify the election and go back, We need to focus on moving forward.”
And cue the loud boos that filled the convention floor.
It was so raucous that State Party Chairman Paul Farrow had to then inform the delegates to “let him talk” and “be respectful.”
After that display from the conservative crowd, it calls into question exactly who should be surveyed in our state about the need for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Maybe the UW System should not be first in line as a whipping boy about First Amendment rights.
While Vos did not deserve to be booed for stating a fact, he does need to own his share of the blame for stirring the pot of unreasoned anger in our state about the 2020 election. His use of former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate that election has prolonged and needlessly exacerbated the Trump base of the party into continuing to think something nefarious occurred. In fact, as every examination of our state’s balloting proved, nothing illegal or sinister took place.
As evidenced from this weekend’s GOP convention no good comes when partisan attempts are used to strike at our political and electoral institutions. But over and over, across the nation, as The New York Times reported above the fold in their Sunday edition the partisan attacks on truth are far too often the new norm in state legislative races.
At least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted without any evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from both parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph Biden Jr.
Election and democracy experts say they see the rise of anti-democratic impulses in statehouses as a clear, new threat to the health of American democracy. State legislatures hold a unique position in the country’s democratic apparatus, wielding a constitutionally mandated power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Cheered on by Mr. Trump as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024, many state legislators have shown they see that power as license to exert greater control over the outcome of elections.
It undermines our democracy by playing to the ones who will use factless arguments to then spearhead spurious and dangerous reactions that strike at the heart of our political institutions.
After all that grim reality it would seem, then, for there to be no way this post could stay on theme but still somehow look upwards. And more oddly still, by using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the winds to lift our sails. But the following shows not only why we can have faith in reclaiming our democracy, but a lesson that McConnell can impart to Vos.
This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported McConnell’s pleasure over the fact the isolationist wing of the Republican Party was able to be reined in when the Ukraine aid package was put together and passed into law. He said that it was a personal victory for him.
Said McConnell: “I am interested in diminishing the number of my members who believe that America somehow can exist alone in the world.”
He added: “I think the fact that only 11, in the end, ended up voting against the package was an indication of success in convincing a larger number of our members that no matter what was being said by some on the outside that those views were simply incorrect.”
McConnell is most correct about international aid, and on the substance about the Wisconsin election not having been ‘stolen’ Vos is equally correct. What then is required from Vos going forward to combat the most unreasoned in his party, is what McConnell expertly administered in Congress to pass an aid package.
And so it goes.