Iron County Progressive


The Capitol Times

Opinion | Wisconsin Republican governor’s race: dumb and dumber

·         By John Nichols

·         Feb 22, 2022


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It is common to assert that all politicians are cynical liars who arrange their pronouncements solely to fool gullible voters into supporting them. But that’s an unfair characterization. Surely, some politicians are transparently dishonest — Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton come to mind. But there are others whose transgressions are rooted in ignorance, or outright stupidity.

When faced with the choice of whether to identify a candidate as a liar or a fool, the generous course is to give the contender the benefit of the doubt and assume that they mean what they say. In other words, if a politician says something that is quantifiably dumb, the polite response is to assume that they must be, well, dumb.

So let us conclude that the Republican candidates for governor of Wisconsin who refuse to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election — nationally and in Wisconsin — are ignoramuses. Rather than suggest that they are lying in order to score partisan points, let’s assume that they simply do not understand that:

• Biden was elected president with a margin of more than 7 million votes over Trump. Running against an incumbent who shamelessly exploited all the advantages of his position, Biden secured a higher percentage of the  vote than any challenger to a sitting president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt upended Herbert Hoover in 1932. Notably, Biden’s winning percentage in 2020 was a full five points higher than the percentage Trump’s obtained in 2016.

• Biden secured a higher level of Electoral College support — 57% — than George W. Bush got in 2004 or 2000, than Jimmy Carter got in 1976, than Richard Nixon got in 1968, or than John Kennedy got in 1960. Indeed, Biden finished with a better Electoral College percentage than a dozen presidents who were elected over the past 231 years, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

• Biden flipped five states that had voted for Trump in 2016, including Wisconsin, and won the Electoral College with a comfortable 306 to 232 advantage. As a footnote, when Trump prevailed in 2016 by a similar margin, the former president claimed he was “winning the Electoral College in a landslide.” Trump’s political counselor, pollster, and chief White House apologist Kellyanne Conway amplified that remark by announcing: “306. Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”

Let us also assume that Wisconsin’s denialists do not understand that Biden won the state in 2020 with 49.5% of the vote, as opposed to the 47.2% that Trump won with in 2016. And that Biden’s winning margin of just under 21,000 votes was roughly the same as Trump’s 2016 margin. And that Biden won Wisconsin by more votes in 2020 than John Kerry did in 2004 or Al Gore did in 2000.

Lastly, let’s assume that they are unaware that official counts and recounts, courts, audits, reviews and multiple court rulings have affirmed the Wisconsin results. And that they were not listening when conservative Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson acknowledged Biden won Wisconsin and “that we should respect our system of individual state certification of election results, and that in Wisconsin, there is nothing obviously wrong with the statewide results.” Or when Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declared, “Do I believe, in the end, that Joe Biden won the election? Yeah, I think he did. There’s no doubt he’s the president. That’s where we are."

Against the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting the fact of Biden’s victory, it is entirely fair to suggest that politicians who deny that reality, such as state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, meet the dictionary definition of an ignoramus: “an utterly ignorant person.” A newly-announced contender for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Ramthun wants the Legislature to withdraw the state’s electoral votes from Biden’s column as part of a broader effort to undo the 2020 election result.

That, as experts in election law from across the partisan and ideological spectrum explain, is sheer lunacy. There is no evidence of the widespread fraud Ramthun rants about. What he is saying is simply wrong, and yet he appears to be absolutely sincere and certain in his assertions.

The most generous conclusion is that he’s a fool.

But how to explain Rebecca Kleefisch? Unlike Ramthun, Kleefisch is a former television news reporter and anchor who served two terms as the state’s lieutenant governor and is now bidding for the top job with an endorsement from former Gov. Scott Walker. Last September, during an appearance on WISN-TV’s “UpFront,” Kleefisch was asked if she thought Biden had won Wisconsin.

She replied, “I do.”

In an interview last week on WTMJ-AM radio, Kleefisch was again asked who won the 2020 election. She refused to repeat her direct answer. Instead, she referenced convoluted investigations being conducted by a pair of Republican partisans who have embraced fully discredited conspiracy theories about the 2020 election: former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and state Assembly Elections Committee chair Janel Brandtjen.

“I think right now, we have two ongoing investigations to make that determination,” replied Kleefisch. “One under Michael Gableman, one under Janel Brandtjen — I am watching in real time live with you what those audits are yielding.”

There will be those who claim that Kleefisch, as a former journalist and statewide elected official, is cynically trying to appeal to Republican base voters who might be drawn to Ramthun. But that’s essentially saying that she’s a liar, which isn’t very nice at all.

So let’s assume that she somehow forgot what she knew in September and is now as ignorant as her newly announced rival — giving Republican primary voters a choice between two candidates who are best identified as dumb and dumber.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. and @NicholsUprising.