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It’s been a great week for Ron Johnson haters. His attacks on the legal election of Joe Biden have been attacked by Morning Joe, the Lincoln Project and a rare Journal Sentinel editorial. And a petition to recall Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator is making the rounds.
That same day, Steve Schmidt of the Lincoln Project, the group of conservative Republican never-Trumpers who ran powerful ads attacking Donald Trump during the presidential race, promised on Twitter they would go after Johnson: “@RonJohnsonWI I wanted to let you know what we are talking about at @ProjectLincoln tonight. The campaign against you will be the one you earned with your betrayal and sedition. When we are done you will be an American villain who exceeds even the wretched McCarthy in ignominy.”
“I promise you two years of abject political misery,” another tweet by Schmidt promised. “Let’s put Democracy on the ballot. Let’s put your lack of character under review. I think it could be great.”
On Monday Johnson got slammed by former Republican congressman and anti-Trumper Joe Scarborough on his popular MSNBC Morning Joe political show, with host offering this take: “Ron Johnson sometimes doesn’t know the difference between a micro-wave and a blender and his lawn mower. So I don’t think we even need to get into Ron Johnson. He gets confused easily.
None of the guests offered any disagreement.
That same day the Poynter Institute’s Politifact gave Johnson a “Full Flop” rating for completely contradicting himself. Back in mid-December Johnson said “he regarded the election as legitimate and accepted Biden as president-elect,” the analysis noted, and said he didn’t intend to contest the results. Now he’s joined a small group of Republican senators to contest the results.
On Tuesday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an extraordinary editorial blasting the state’s senior senator. Extraordinary because the newspaper quit doing editorials years ago, because it was unusually long, and because the typically careful paper went after Johnson with guns blazing, suggested by the headline “Ron Johnson’s dangerous shilling for Donald Trump makes him unfit to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate.” The editorial compared Johnson unfavorably to Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mike Gallagher, who have stood up for the democratic process and condemned efforts to overturn the presidential election, and offered this salvo:
“Johnson’s disgraceful display should not go unpunished… we urge voters to remember what Johnson has done. Hold him accountable. Demand that qualified challengers, Republican and Democrat alike, run against him if he has the audacity to break another promise and try for a third term in 2022.”
And in a column published today, Right Wisconsin editor James Wigderson compared Johnson to his scurrilous predecessor Joe McCarthy, whose name became a label (McCarthyism) for ruining lives using shameless attacks without evidence. Wigderson accuses Johnson of “corrupting demagogy,” of “attempting to justify disenfranchising millions of voters, including those in his own state, using wild, unsubstantiated charges of vote fraud. McCarthy would have been proud of his successor. ”
Meanwhile, a petition to “Recall Senator Ron Johnson” by MoveOn.org saw a surge in signatures (more than 16,000 as of this morning) agreeing with this pointed assessment of Johnson: “He does not represent the citizens of Wisconsin, and continues to perpetuate the idea that the 2020 Presidential election was fraudulent. This devalues his constituents votes and their voices to be heard. His motives are dangerous to our Democracy as a whole, and disgraceful to the citizens of Wisconsin.”
Stirring stuff. But will any of it matter?
Let’s start with the petition, as that’s the most easy to dismiss, because a federal official cannot be recalled from office. As the Congressional Research Service notes, “the United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States…. the right to remove a Member of Congress before the expiration of his or her constitutionally established term of office is one which resides exclusively in each house of Congress as expressly delegated in the expulsion clause of the United States Constitution.”
The showdown with Todd and Morning Joe’s dismissal of Johnson are good TV, but likely to be forgotten by next week.
As for the Lincoln Project, it remains to be seen if it indeed decides to target Johnson. Its ads have certainly been punchy and fun, but the group had more success targeting Trump than Republican senators. And once Trump is gone the group may have trouble sustaining momentum, as Politico has suggested. That said, if the group does a sustained attack on Johnson it could be damaging.
Once upon a time, when the Journal Sentinel had statewide clout, the JS editorial could have been devastating. But nowadays the paper doesn’t have much clout in the Milwaukee metro area, much less state wide. Johnson, moreover, tends to glory in the media attacks on him, styling himself as the courageous warrior unfazed by attacks from the allegedly liberal media.
Still, there is a steady, drip-drip quality to all the attacks that may leave Johnson permanently stained. His undermining of democracy might upset some of the same suburban Republican voters who turned against Trump. Wigderson’s column for a publication aimed at conservatives could reinforce such feelings.
And beyond Johnson’s demagoguery on the presidential election is another issue that also goes to his integrity. He was reelected in 2016 after promising voters he would retire after serving a second term. Now, as the JS editorial noted, “he has the audacity” to consider breaking that promise and run for another term. The media across the state are aware of that promise and might want to remind voters of it.