An Election Lament

[I have always taken a greater interest in national issues and politics than in those of my state of Wisconsin.  There are followers of these pages who are deeply versed in Wisconsin policy and politics.  I would welcome any markedly different analysis offering other – hopefully, happier — views.] 

Wisconsin is one of our truly swing states.  The Marquette University Law School (“MU”) poll — considered the “gold standard” for political polling in the state – released today found Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers in a literal tie with Republican and Trump-Endorsed Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Tim Michels, while Republican U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson held a 2-point lead over the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.  Compared to the preceding MU poll released in October, the results constituted a slight decline for Mr. Evers, a 4-point improvement for Mr. Barnes.

Since the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s political rise, MAGA vote has been consistently under-detected by pollsters.  The last MU poll before the 2020 presidential election found President Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump by 5 percentage points in a race Mr. Biden ultimately won by a little over half a percentage point.  It does not seem unreasonable to apply this differential to any MU polling data.

Although I have never voted for him, it’s a source of considerable embarrassment to me that my state is represented by Mr. Johnson.  I suspect that nine months ago, it was incomprehensible to any rational observer outside Wisconsin, notwithstanding the indications of an electoral “Red Wave” in 2022, that the Senator could win reelection in November.  Given the eccentric range of Mr. Johnson’s untoward and inane activities and statements in the Trump Era – culminating in indications that he was willing to collaborate with Trump loyalists on January 6, 2021, to steal Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory — one can ponder whether Mr. Johnson is a conscious co-conspirator or merely a useful dupe in the MAGA movement to establish an American Apartheid; but whether villain or fool, he is manifestly a danger to our Republic. 

Although lacking the wherewithal to post a version of this note when I first considered it last July, I still have a pang of regret that Wisconsin Democrats nominated Mr. Barnes for the U.S. Senate rather than Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, one of Mr. Barnes’ opponents for the nomination.  Although whomever was the Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate was going to get my vote – Mr. Barnes can chalk my vote up to his column as assuredly as he can his own — I felt then (and feel now) that Ms. Godlewski would be better positioned than Mr. Barnes to leverage the Democrats’ “wedge issues” – abortion and gun control – against Mr. Johnson.  (I admit that I actually know very little about Ms. Godlewski.  I have heard that she is not popular in all Wisconsin Democratic quarters and perhaps she has political skeletons that would have been used against her by the Republicans, but I thought she did well in the Democratic Candidate Senate debate, and I would have loved the debate “visual” of the young woman up against the crusty, hoary Mr. Johnson.) 

Milwaukee is currently plagued by rising violent crime.  Even before Mr. Barnes was nominated, he seemed to me more vulnerable than Ms. Godlewski to Republican attacks on crime and immigration.  Despite his current campaign protestations, an analysis by CNN (hardly a conservative outlet) of Mr. Barnes’ past statements and social media postings indicated that he has signaled that he would support “redirecting or decreasing police funding” and “abolishing ICE [U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement].”  (There has been a picture of him holding up an “Abolish ICE” tee shirt on the internet for years.)  We saw at a Republican town hall meeting in the summer of 2021 how viscerally negatively conservative mid-state Wisconsinites reacted to migrants crossing our southern border.  While Mr. Barnes’ positions are more nuanced than Republican claims would suggest, it was apparent that Republicans could exploit them in Wisconsin’s highly-partisan political environment without even unduly spinning them. 

[NPR’s Tamara Keith recently reported that 70% of Republican ads in the Wisconsin Senate race were about crime.  While the Republican emphasis on crime carries a tinge of racial stereotyping against the African American Mr. Barnes when directed at white suburbanites, it also arguably resonates with some black city residents.  A recent Heritage Foundation study applying 2020 Census Data to 2020 FBI violent crime statistics found that African Americans make up approximately 14% of the U.S. population, but are victims of over 32% of all U.S. violent crime victims and over 54% of U.S. homicides.]

Even so:  in 1992, the presidential campaign of then-AR Gov. Bill Clinton best articulated the primary electoral challenge confronting Democrats today:  “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”  Although I have undoubtedly spent less time in grocery stores over the years than the average American – TLOML was always concerned that sending me would ultimately yield only ice cream and alcohol 😉 — I am nonetheless well aware that the prices of the few staples that I do buy are UP.  A LOT.  While other factors, arguably foreseeable and unforeseeable, have obviously been at play, I don’t think it can be tenably disputed that the Democrats’ last COVID relief bill, despite their good intentions and understandable underestimation of the impact it could have on prices largely quiescent for decades, has accelerated inflationary pressures.  The party in power when inflation climbs dramatically is going to feel the political brunt.  [Those with long memories will recall that one of the factors that contributed to former President Gerald Ford’s loss to former President Jimmy Carter in 1976 was the failure of Mr. Ford’s “WIN” (“Whip Inflation Now”) program.]  It is … what it is.

I have predicted in these pages more than once that the Supreme Court’s elimination of women’s Constitutional abortion right would cause enough moderate backlash to enable Democrats to hold the Senate.  At this point, I concede that I did not anticipate the level of inflation that our citizens would be facing at election time when I made my prediction.  I would be thrilled to be proven overly-pessimistic, and recognize that Democrats may still maintain control of the Senate, but inflation currently appears to be the Death Star through which the Empire will strike back. 

I do not begrudge the economy-driven votes of Americans; too many of us literally can’t afford to ruminate on the dangers the MAGA movement represents to our republic. It is also obvious why those feeling particularly prey to crime might not count saving democracy as their uppermost priority. Although it seems a bit ill-mannered to express my reservations about Mr. Barnes’ candidacy now when I didn’t have the opportunity to do so last summer, my lament is for the future of Wisconsin and its impact on our national fabric.  While Mr. Johnson would probably be leading Ms. Godlewski in the polls at this juncture had she been the Democratic nominee, the suspicion lurks – perhaps only with me — that she would be faring better than Mr. Barnes is.  Given voters’ sharply decreasing tendency to “ticket split,” I fear that any relatively larger margin of defeat for the Democratic Senate candidate may cause Mr. Michels to squeak by Mr. Evers, who for the last four years has held the line against the toxically-partisan MAGA-infected Wisconsin state legislature (which is now seeking a “Super Majority” that would enable it to override Gubernatorial vetoes).  Any ascendancy of Mr. Michels to the Wisconsin governorship will place Wisconsin’s entire state government apparatus in the hands of illiberal elements, which would not only bode ill for the citizens of the state but call into question the state’s willingness to fairly administer the 2024 Presidential election upon which our democracy, as in 2020, will rest.

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