Robin Vos’ impeachment threats and the Republican hall of mirrors

The Republican clown caucus scored a victory Thursday when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos caved to pressure from election deniers and moved forward articles of impeachment against Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe. 

Vos, who had previously said he didn’t plan to act on the impeachment threat, was apparently moved by a six-figure ad buy in the Milwaukee area falsely accusing Wolfe of fostering election fraud and threatening Vos himself with recall if he didn’t act. Adam Steen, Vos’ unsuccessful primary challenger and Harry Wait, the Racine County election denier who has been charged with fraudulently requesting other voters’ absentee ballots, bought the ads, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after being egged on by Michael Gableman, the disgraced former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice whom Vos hired and then fired as chief investigator into baseless allegations of fraud in Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos | Screenshot vis Wisconsin Eye

Vos is once again a victim of the chaos he helped create. He has indulged nonsense allegations that Donald Trump was robbed of his rightful victory in Wisconsin in 2020, knowing full well that the election was not stolen and that Meagan Wolfe — a tireless public servant who has earned the respect and commendation of her colleagues nationwide — was just doing her job. So were the local elections officials all over the state who have been subjected to unprecedented harassment and abuse, thanks to the millions of taxpayers dollars that Vos spent on Gableman’s embarrassing and futile “investigation” while the Assembly speaker made spurious claims that “widespread fraud” was indeed a problem.  

Vos finally canceled the whole thing and fired Gableman, not because of his failure to produce credible evidence of the conspiracies he stoked, but because he supported a primary challenge against Vos.

Vos has survived the conspiracy theorists’ “Toss Vos” campaign so far. But he continues to try to steer a middle path between their flagrantly false claims and reality, leaving himself forever vulnerable to pressure from the chaos caucus — and continually compromising himself.

Take the case of Meagan Wolfe, whom Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu insisted was not properly serving in her job and could be fired and replaced by the Senate. In court filings, attorneys for the Senate Republicans and Vos admitted that the legislators did not have the power to remove Wolfe, writing in a legal brief that the vote to fire her was merely “symbolic.” 

Vos continues to play both sides. He ignored the articles of impeachment against Wolfe drafted by his colleagues in September, saying he would wait for the lawsuit to work its way through court. Then, when the ads against him began to air this week, he suddenly referred the impeachment to the Assembly Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight. Like the absurd and wasteful Gableman investigation, this bit of theater is meant to mollify the conspiracy theorists. But they’re a suspicious group, and they’re never mollified for long. 

By indulging their delusions, Vos has bought himself a world of endless trouble. Not to mention the rest of us.

All of this is part of a larger Republican problem. As they try to hang onto the increasingly far-out MAGA faction of the party, GOP leaders at the state and national level are falling prey to impossible demands that prevent them from governing. The world watched that dynamic play out as the fractious GOP caucus in the House struggled to elect a speaker. Here in Wisconsin, the stakes are also high as the Republicans toy with the idea of  destabilizing our voting system just in time for the 2024 election.

The GOP hall of mirrors

Twenty years ago Republican political operatives pioneered the political smear technique known as “swiftboating.” A group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked presidential candidate John Kerry, challenging the legitimacy of his Vietnam combat medals and casting doubt on the honor of his service in the war. What was so devastating about the technique was the way it targeted Kerry’s greatest strength – his heroism in Vietnam and the moral authority he gained to later criticize U.S. conduct there. The Swift Boat Veterans’ distortions damaged what had been his main asset as a candidate and ultimately sank his campaign and helped elect George W. Bush.

Since then, things have gotten worse.

Today, a lot of Republican voters are living in what Naomi Klein, in her fascinating book “Doppleganger,” describes as “The Mirror World.” Klein writes about her personal, destabilizing experience having her identity confused with another writer, Naomi Wolfe, the feminist author turned COVID conspiracy theorist. Through this lens she looks deeply into the current paranoid style of American politics. Right-wingers led by Trump strategist Steve Bannon (and Naomi Wolfe, who has become his sidekick) have created a kind of “evil twin” version of left-wing movements, co-opting their language and anti-establishment energy to stoke right-wing populist outrage and motivate an angry, disaffected base. 

Picking up on a hodgepodge of issues that resonate with people who feel a general sense of economic, ecological, and social dread, Bannon and his gang galvanized outraged suburban moms who didn’t like stay-at-home orders or mask and vaccine mandates, election deniers who will never be convinced Trump didn’t win in 2020, and white people who are uneasy with  the erosion of formerly accepted hierarchies and the demise of a heroic American mythology. That last group is the target audience for a raft of anti- “wokeness” bills in the Wisconsin Legislature, where Republicans are pushing the backwards claim that, in the name of “color-blindness” and racial justice, the university must abolish all programs that help historically marginalized groups.

These claims seem like gaslighting. And they are. 

But it’s not just we, the voters, who are being gaslit. As Vos’ impeachment reversal demonstrates, the Republicans are gaslighting themselves. And it’s pretty clear they have no idea how to put out the blaze they’ve started. 



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F11%2F03%2Frobin-vos-impeachment-threats-and-the-republican-hall-of-mirrors%2F by Ruth Conniff

Comments are closed.