The Wisconsin Backlash

[ Posted Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 – 16:37 UTC ]

One week after an entirely unnecessary and dangerous in-person election in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Wisconsin vote totals were announced. And the result was surprising, because it seems there was a backlash against the heavy-handed Republican tactics which forced the election to go forward against all common sense. I guess voters don't appreciate being put in danger for one party's political advantage.

Wisconsin Republicans wanted the election to go forward for one simple reason: they thought that the lower the turnout, the better the result would be for them. In particular, one of the state's conservative supreme court justices was up for re-election, and they thought he'd win if they could just suppress enough Democratic votes. Well, the results are in, and they were wrong -- the liberal challenger handily won the race. This is only the second time in a half-century that an incumbent didn't win re-election, it's worth pointing out. And Wisconsin is a key state in the presidential election in November.

How much of this was backlash and how much of it would have happened even if the pandemic didn't exist will never be fully known, but it's a pretty safe bet to assume that the backlash was at least partly responsible for the Democratic win. Republicans are already blaming their loss on the fact that there was a Democratic primary race on the ballot while Trump has locked up the Republican nomination, but this ignores the fact that before the vote count was announced they thought forcing the election now was going to be a real winner for them. Heck, even most Democrats feared that the tactic would work for the GOP. Which is why the result is such a happy surprise.

Wisconsin could be a harbinger in a lot of ways, though, and not all of them are pleasant to contemplate. If the coronavirus does return in the fall, how is each state going to cope with the election? There will probably be a lot of different answers to that, because each state is different. For some states, it will matter little at all, since they already perform their entire elections through the mail. For other states, it will be a heavy load but not an unfamiliar load -- states with easy access to absentee or mail-in ballots will doubtless see a huge spike in the number of citizens requesting such ballots, but they'll already be used to the process. They routinely deal with a large number of mail-in ballots anyway, so it'll be going from, say, 35 percent of all ballots to perhaps 80 percent of all ballots. They'll have to ramp up their efforts significantly, but the system will already be in place.

Then there will be other states which are much less prepared to deal with a mail-in election. Some will want to do the right thing, but may become overwhelmed by the changes they need to make. In some states, election laws will need to be changed, which means the legislature will have to act. Voters won't be as used to the idea of mail-in ballots, so there will have to be an education effort to make it accessible and easy for everyone. And, of course, the election officials will need to institute brand-new practices, or scale them up from the very limited absentee balloting they're used to.

And, of course, some states (like Wisconsin) will fight it tooth and nail. Although now that the Wisconsin results are in, Republicans elsewhere might just think twice about forcing people to vote in person. It didn't seem to produce the desired result, and if it truly did give rise to a backlash, then Republicans should be worried about angry voters in their own states rejecting the Republican "you have to risk your life to vote" party line. But there will doubtlessly be a few states where the state Republicans insist that nothing should change and absentee voting should be strictly limited and very hard to request.

This may not turn out to be so bad for Democrats in November, though. It really depends on which states fight mail-in ballots the hardest. Most will likely be deep red states, which will limit the actual effect (since they would have voted Republican anyway). Swing states may be less likely to adopt hardball tactics, especially after Wisconsin showed what could happen.

Republicans may not realize the potency of the issue. Issues like fairness and safety are not really partisan issues, after all. If Republicans stake out a position that voters must be put at risk to cast their ballot, that is going to sound pretty insane to any reasoning voter. It's truly an indefensible position to take, because there is no other reason than "we think it'll help our side win" that makes any sense whatsoever to the average voter.

There's another thing Wisconsin might be a harbinger of as well, and that is an explosion of voting-related court cases. What hangs in the balance is whether their election will be seen as legitimate, so this is no small thing. If this were to happen in multiple states in November -- where the actual legitimacy of the vote count is seriously called into question -- then Bush v. Gore might look like a Sunday picnic by comparison. If any of the states where lawsuits do break out is in question in the presidential contest, it's going to get very ugly very fast. The only thing that could spare us this fight would be if one candidate clearly wins in the Electoral College without counting any of the legally-contested states. If even a few of the swing states have overwhelming victory margins for one candidate or the other, then this could make the rest of the court cases moot (in the Electoral College, at any rate).

But again, maybe it won't even come to that. There are plenty of Republicans who -- even before the Wisconsin results were announced -- know full well that their party is completely capable of winning an election by encouraging mail-in voting from their own base, so perhaps the number of states fighting mail-in voting will be few, and deep red. Nothing about filling a ballot out at home and dropping it in the mail is either Democratic or Republican, after all. You can fill out your ballot in a mansion, in a suburban home, or in a trailer park. The ballot doesn't care -- it still counts. Senior citizens will be the most leery of putting themselves at risk to cast an in-person ballot, and seniors are the most-reliable segment of both political parties when it comes to voting. There is in fact nothing ideological about mail-in voting one way or another. Oregon uses it exclusively, but then again so does Utah. So perhaps more Republicans nationwide will get over their ideological hurdle and fully embrace mail-in voting, at least for the 2020 election. That would be an ideal outcome, in fact.

Wisconsin's backlash is certainly going to be a big goad in this effort. If it had turned out differently -- if the conservative candidate had won, as designed -- then this simply would not be true. In that case, Republicans in other states would have worked hard to emulate the success in Wisconsin, and they would have dug their heels in on mail-in voting. But maybe now that won't happen, since they can look at Wisconsin and see how this can backfire. Restricting ease of voting and putting people in danger actually strongly motivates people to vote against you. That's what Wisconsin just proved to the Republican Party, and maybe that lesson will sink in elsewhere around the country.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


52 Comments on “The Wisconsin Backlash”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    What a happy surprise, Wisconsin! It's too bad that we'll never know how much of the upset was due to backlash, but nevertheless I can smell a lot of Democratic campaign ads in there.

    How Repugs react to this will be interesting to see.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    outstanding analysis CW, but as usual you've completely ignored the opportunity this win presents to explore other ideas that benefit people's overall health, such as voting based on pie. shame on you for once again failing to see the idea's full potential.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    if all the states have vote by mail, they could also get pie by mail. the possibilities are endless!

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The possibilities are endless, indeed.

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: If the coronavirus does return in the fall, how is each state going to cope with the election?

    Somebody help me understand why everybody keeps saying:
    * if it returns
    * when it returns
    * similar phrases.

    The virus has to "leave" before it can "return," and it's just getting started/ramping up in rural areas of America where the population is generally older and more vulnerable with the added misfortune of believing the Trump BS and -- worse than that -- limited access to full-service hospitals without relocating themselves dozens of miles to larger cities and/or urban areas and expecting to be healed by the "dark arts" that normal people refer to as "science."

    When it finally begins to "off ramp" in the urban areas -- say around mid/end of May depending on locale -- it'll just be getting started/ramping up in "flyover country" where a whole lot of them are Trump cultists who still don't believe there's a problem because Donald Trump and the useful idiots played down the severity of the disease while fiddling, dithering, playing golf, and holding rallies screaming into a microphone that "it's a hoax"... backed up by the talking heads on their television sets tuned to Fox News BS repeating the same utter asinine bullshit 24/7.

    Nothing like choking repeatedly to get a good breath of air to "clue you in" that Your Orange Worship is a conniving POS... and you were the hayseed gullible enough to believe a pathological lying con artist.

    Apologies... my otherwise awesome uncle in Podunk, Arkansas, died today because he was fool enough to buy into the "hoax" rhetoric of Donald Trump. He honestly believed the virus was a hoax because hayseeds don't really do "nuance." I found this out because my aunt called me at 3:00 o'clock in the morning upset and -- I kid you not -- needing help to file (meaning pay) her taxes that are "due today." Death and taxes.

    ... those tasked with protecting us by being truthful and transparent failed to do so. It would have been so easy to be truthful. And so much death has been caused by their mistakes.
    ~ Donald Trump in full-blown projection mode, April 14, 2020

    People out there, please take the necessary steps to take care of yourselves. This ain't no fire drill, and it's likely coming to a town near you or you're going to town near it.

    Rant over.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: And, of course, some states (like Wisconsin) will fight it tooth and nail.

    Of course... you know it. Texas doesn't generally want voters either -- perish the thought -- so it'll be interesting to see which way they go on this, for sure.

    Although now that the Wisconsin results are in, Republicans elsewhere might just think twice about forcing people to vote in person.

    You think so? I do hope so; it would be so great getting to vote without having to wrap myself in Saran and standing in a line 2 miles long... winding down the Interstate into the next county.

    So I guess we better keep our eyes on Wisconsin for the WI-7 congressional district special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Representative Sean "I want my MTV" Duffy that -- as of now -- is still set to be held on May 12, 2020, where this whole scenario will either play out again or the Wisconsin GOP will come to its senses.

    WI-7 is a Republican district that before Duffy(R) was represented by Obey(D) for 40+ years... so it'd be a shame if it flipped back to blue, now wouldn't it? It's just that the trend where suburban voters who don't like Donald Trump and shitty government are voting out GOP candidates from coast to coast and border to border continues unabated since 2018 and shows no signs of stopping.

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:


    if all the states have vote by mail, they could also get pie by mail. the possibilities are endless!

    Make mine ALL blueberry with no nuts... my ballot and my pie.

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Now that's what I call an awesome rant!

    Sorry to hear about your uncle. If you can't socially isolate in Arkansas where in the Hell CAN you still socially isolate in the USA? Mine shafts maybe?

    $1200 showed up in my checking account yesterday! There are not a whole lot of places I can spend it...but it's a nice gesture.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Will Americans stand up to president Trump and ensure that he does not pull funding from the WHO, a truly indispensable organization, especially in the middle of a pandemic!?

    Trump is the example of the most dangerous kind of abject ignorance.

    Can Congress stop this particular insanity, if they so chose?

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    of course they COULD, if they had the courage of their convictions. but as CW rightly points out, they generally have quite the opposite.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I keep waiting for them to draw the line. This would be a good time for it. Because, as problems go, I think we got one here.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The WHO just released their most critical guidance yesterday to help countries safely unlock their shutdowns. The press briefing today should be quite informative. It is set for 5pm, Geneva time.

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    isn't that like, right now?

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I don't think so. :)

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    When you go to, click on more info in the red box and scroll down a bit to find the press conference; you can watch the one from Monday right now.

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It is on now!

  17. [17] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    um, didn't i just say that?

  18. [18] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    vocabulary word for the day: kakistocracy

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    No, wait! Isn't Geneva one hour ahead of London? So, that would make it on at 11am our time??

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Kakistocracy, indeed. Thanks for that word, Joshua!

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Definitely, a word worth remembering, Joshua.

    I just shared that with my other favourite blog, a place I know you would love.

  22. [22] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i can't take credit for it, just read it in an article from the atlantic.

  23. [23] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i can't take credit for it, just read it in an article from the atlantic.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Did you watch the presser?

  25. [25] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    can't, still teaching remotely

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, take a look when you can and we'll discuss.

  27. [27] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Kick [5]

    GREAT RANT! This has been driving me crazy — people think that this pandemic is slowing down in this country! It is just starting to really show the extent it has already made its way into rural America, and it is gonna hit the FoxNews communities the hardest! Until we have nation-wide testing, we aren’t going to know when this is truly starting to slow down... and people must be willing to wait to avoid an even worse outbreak.

    So sorry to hear about your uncle! I fear my father and other relatives — especially those living in LA (Lower Alabama) — may listen to FoxNews more than they will admit. I’d love for them to realize that I was serious when I warned them that the GOP didn’t give a crap about them, but hope that realization doesn’t come when they are on their deathbeds.

    One side effect from the stay-at-home orders has been air pollution from vehicles and large factories have not been dumping tons of CO2 into the air and some heavily populated big cities are seeing truly blue skies for the first time in years. I wonder how much — if any — this will help slow down the effects of climate change. If nothing else, seeing just how big a difference getting gas guzzlers off the roads has made to air quality has made me want an electric car more than ever.

    Big hugs to ya!


  28. [28] 
    MyVoice wrote:


    My condolences on the loss of your otherwise awesome uncle.

  29. [29] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Spot on, Kick!

    I alluded to this "Natural Selection" scenario a couple of columns back. I'd say it's more of a "Natural SELF Selection" process in that the folks who believed Cheetogod may now pay for their gullibility with their very lives. See this Atlantic article.

  30. [30] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Oh, and my condolences on the loss of your awesome Arkansas Uncle.

  31. [31] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Let's try this bleeping link thingy again:

    "See this Atlantic article.

  32. [32] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Could you make the number (in the upper left hand corner of each comment) LARGER for poor bastards like me who are participating in this Comments section on a (cracked) smartphone?

  33. [33] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That might be easier than creating a time-sensitive edit function. :)

  34. [34] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    that couldn't be so hard either. edit scripts already exist, like in google classroom.

  35. [35] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, I thought that but didn't want to say it out loud, so to speak.

  36. [36] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    In case, Chris was listening, you know. :)

  37. [37] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua, do you want me to give you the coles notes on the presser today, extended version?

  38. [38] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    sure, sounds good

  39. [39] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i haven't heard of cole's notes, but i get the gist. i have of course heard of cole's law.

  40. [40] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Here’s an endorsement from some true conservatives:

    By George T. Conway III, Reed Galen, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson 

    April 15, 2020 at 11:35 a.m. PDT

    The authors are on the advisory board of the Lincoln Project.

    This November, Americans will cast their most consequential votes since Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. We confront a constellation of crises: a public health emergency not seen in a century, an economic collapse set to rival the Great Depression, and a world where American leadership is absent and dangers rise in the vacuum.

    Today, the United States is beset with a president who was unprepared for the burden of the presidency and who has made plain his deficits in leadership, management, intelligence and morality.

    When we founded the Lincoln Project, we did so with a clear mission: to defeat President Trump in November. Publicly supporting a Democratic nominee for president is a first for all of us. We are in extraordinary times, and we have chosen to put country over party — and former vice president Joe Biden is the candidate who we believe will do the same.

    Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee and he has our support. Biden has the experience, the attributes and the character to defeat Trump this fall. Unlike Trump, for whom the presidency is just one more opportunity to perfect his narcissism and self-aggrandizement, Biden sees public service as an opportunity to do right by the American people and a privilege to do so.

    Biden is a reflection of the United States. Born into a middle-class family in coal-country Pennsylvania, he has known the hardship and heartbreak that so many Americans themselves know and that millions more are about to experience.

    Biden’s personal tragedies and losses tested his strength, his faith and his determination. They were enough to crush most people’s spirit, but Biden emerged more compassionate toward the suffering of others and the burdens that life imposes on his fellow Americans.

    Biden did what Americans have always done: picked himself up, dusted himself off and made the best of a bad situation. In the years since he first entered office, Biden has consistently demonstrated decency, empathy and humanity.

    Biden’s life has been marked by triumphs that didn’t change the goodness in him, and he is a man for whom public service never went to his head. His long record of bipartisan friendship and cross-partisan legislative efforts commends him to this moment. He is an imperfect man, but a man who loves his country and its people with a broad smile and an open heart.

    In this way, Trump is a photonegative of Joe Biden. While Trump has innumerable flaws and a lifetime of blaming others for them, Biden has long admitted his imperfections and in doing so has further illustrated his inherent goodness and his willingness to do the work necessary to help put the United States back on a path of health and prosperity.

    Unlike Trump, Biden is not an international embarrassment, nor does he demonstrate malignant narcissism. A President Biden will steady the ship of state and begin binding up the wounds of a fractured country. We have faith that Biden will surround himself by advisers of competence, expertise and wisdom, not an endless parade of disposable lackeys.

    For Trump, the presidency has been the biggest stage, under the hottest klieg lights in a reality show of his making. Every episode leaves the audience more shocked and divided. Trump’s only barometer is his own ego. The country, our values and its people do not factor into Trump’s equation.

    Biden understands a tenet of leadership that far too few leaders today grasp: The presidency is a life-and-death business, that the consequences of elections have real-world effects on individual Americans, and that all of this — all of the struggle, toil and work — is not a zero-sum game.

    The coronavirus crisis is a terrifying example of why real leadership looks outward. This crisis, the deaths and economic destruction are immeasurably worse because Trump and his administration were unwilling to do what was necessary to mitigate its worst effects and bring the country back as quickly as possible.

    We asked ourselves: How would a Biden presidency handle this crisis? Would he spend weeks lying about the risk? Would he look to cable news, the stock market and his ratings before taking the steps to make us safer? The answer is obvious: Biden will be the superior leader during the crisis of our generation.

    We’ve seen the damage three years of corruption and cultish amateurism can do. This country cannot afford to be torn apart for sport and profit for another term, as Trump will surely do. If Biden takes office next January, he won’t need on-the-job training.

    We are in a transcendent and transformative period of American history. The nation cannot afford another four years of chaos, duplicity and Trump’s reality distortion. This country is crying out for a president with a spine stiffened by tragedy, a worldview shaped by experience and a heart whose compass points to decency.

    It is our hope that when the next president takes the oath of office in January, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be the president for a truly united America. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

  41. [41] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Very nice.

  42. [42] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    [40] [41]

    Well, Elizabeth, this screed from the Lincoln Project sure makes me appreciate Joe Biden more than before. And with my ascendant Progressive Wing (aka "The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party") watching over him come January 2021, I can be more hopeful that Joe won't sell America out to Big Money, as did Bill Clinton and to a degree Obama did.

    I am sooo looking forward to Trump leaving office in January. I betcha our country will be just as eager for an incoming Democratic President after Trump as we were for Obama after loser George W. Bush, the last awful Repug President foisted upon us by the Electoral College.

  43. [43] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Reading through that screed made me cry because finally, FINALLY people are starting to see who Joe Biden really is.

  44. [44] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    the bush-obama transition was small potatoes compared to the existential crisis and tidal wave of challenges that will greet the next president to take office, be it biden in 2021 or somebody else down the road.

    however, i believe biden would be equal to the task on day 1, and that's why i've supported him since he declared. nevermind the partisan rancor of the recent past; in my estimation it's been over 30 years since we had a president who entered office for the first time fully competent to do the job. this country deserves to finally have a president who will.


  45. [45] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... be it biden in 2021 or somebody else down the road.

    Okay, Joshua, despite that fact that Chris Cuomo is just itching for his big brother to be the next president, the Governor will not be the Democratic nominee. Period.

  46. [46] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i'm no fan of my governor.

  47. [47] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    by "down the road" i'm just allowing for the sad possibility that donald may STILL be re-elected.

  48. [48] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    'the heck did'ya mean, then … "or someone else down the road"?

  49. [49] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Oh, I see. :(

  50. [50] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, did you see the WHO briefing - Dr. Ryan had a very good answer to the Trump attacks.

  51. [51] 
    Kick wrote:

    TS | Russ | MyVoice | MtnCaddy

    TS: Sorry to hear about your uncle. If you can't socially isolate in Arkansas where in the Hell CAN you still socially isolate in the USA? Mine shafts maybe?

    Exactly! It is infuriating that people are being misled. I'm going through the 5 stages of grief quickly and in the wrong order. You know: (1) Denial, (2) Anger, (3) Bargaining, (4) Depression, and (5) Acceptance. I was almost expecting something like this to happen so immediately accepted it, nothing whatsoever to deny or bargain, depression gets me nowhere, so I'm ending the process on angry plus sad.

    Russ: I fear my father and other relatives — especially those living in LA (Lower Alabama) — may listen to FoxNews more than they will admit. I’d love for them to realize that I was serious when I warned them that the GOP didn’t give a crap about them, but hope that realization doesn’t come when they are on their deathbeds.

    Exactly this! In February I called the relatives that I knew needed the warning and was informed I wasn't the first relative to call (certainly glad to hear that) and was ridiculed followed by laughter. I am sad to report they aren't laughing any longer. Russ, if you warned them; that's all you can do. It's frustrating; I know you know.

    I hope my otherwise awesome uncle is at peace and thanks for condolences and truly wish the best for you and yours as well.

    And I would not be me if I did not close in saying: Y'all do take care; this f*****g sucks, and it's just getting started.

  52. [52] 
    Kick wrote:


    Let's try this bleeping link thingy again:

    "See this Atlantic article.

    I'm reading the Politico article. Which Atlantic article? Be glad to read it if you post the title; I'll find it... if you even read this post, of course.

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