Conservatives pour salt on the wounds of the GOP’s "historically humiliating" Wisconsin loss

Republicans subjected themselves to a public relations fiasco over a right-wing candidate who didn’t even win

Published April 15, 2020 4:59AM (EDT)

Joe Scarborough (Getty/Paul Morigi)
Joe Scarborough (Getty/Paul Morigi)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," isn't the only Never Trump conservative who has been pouring salt on the GOP's wounds over Wisconsin's April 7 election: Charlie Sykes, co-founder of The Bulwark, is doing so as well this week — and, like Scarborough, is arguing that Republicans subjected themselves to a public relations fiasco over a right-wing candidate who didn't even win: incumbent Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers and other Democrats — fearing for the safety of voters during the coronavirus pandemic — called for postponing the election and encouraged mail-in ballots as an alternative to in-person voting. But Republicans in the state legislature resisted that idea, and on Tuesday, April 7, the election went ahead. Those who hadn't already mailed in absentee ballots had to vote in person — and Wisconsin voters, thanks to Republicans, stood in long lines on Election Day. Scarborough has been slamming the Wisconsin GOP for putting voters at a greater risk of being infected with coronavirus.

That day, Wisconsin residents voted in the Democratic presidential primary as well as for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat. Liberal Jill Karofsky was up against Justice Dan Kelly, who has been enthusiastically endorsed by President Donald Trump. Republicans, Sykes notes, believed that discouraging mail-in voting would give Kelly an advantage, but as it turned out, Karofsky won by "more than 10 percentage points — which translates to more than 120,000 votes."

"It was a blowout in a state that has become notorious for its close elections," Sykes asserts in his Bulwark article. "Despite their efforts to make voting as difficult as possible, Republicans were overwhelmed by a tsunami of mail-in votes…. The scope and nature of Kelly's defeat was historically humiliating."

Sykes observes that although Wisconsin Republicans were hoping that Karofsky's supporters would stay home on April 7, all they succeeded in doing was bringing them out in droves — even with the threat of coronavirus.

"The images of long lines of voters in make-shift masks — contrasted with Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in full PPE insisting that voting was 'incredibly safe' — were instantly iconic," Sykes explains. "State Republicans wagered that the horrifically bad optics would be worth it if they could just save Kelly's seat. They failed in spectacular fashion."

Scarborough has been equally cutting in his remarks. Tuesday morning on "Morning Joe," the former GOP congressman declared, "In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, 'stupid is as stupid does.' In this case, stupid would be the Wisconsin Republican Party, (which) forced people to go out and vote in the middle of a pandemic, believing that it would lower turnout and would elect a Republican so they could purge voter rolls."
However, Sykes emphasizes that there are some "important caveats" to Karofsky's victory. One is that "spring elections are not necessarily a reliable indicator of what will happen in November," and another is that "the Democratic presidential primary candidates were still on the ballot, which undoubtedly added considerably to the turnout of liberal voters."

Despite the "turnout of liberal voters" that Sykes mentions, it was former Vice President Joe Biden (a centrist) rather than liberal/progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who won the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin. And the following day, Sanders dropped out of the race.

Sykes stresses that although Karofsky's victory doesn't necessarily mean that Biden will defeat Trump in that state in November, "there was no good news for the GOP or Trump" in Wisconsin's April 7 election. The conservative journalist writes, "Liberal Jill Karofsky blows out an incumbent conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court judge…. If this is what 'winning' under Trump looks like, then what's going to happen to the GOP if he loses?"

By Alex Henderson

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Wisconsin Joe Scarborough Charlie Sykes Gop Republicans Elections 2020