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Why American Politics’ Most Fascinating State is Wisconsin

The politics of America have long been tested in Wisconsin. It continues to be that way at this time.

It is where two formerly strong senators, Joseph McCarthy and Robert La Follette, laid out two of the key themes that are still prevalent today — what historian Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid model” in McCarthy’s case and progressivism in La Follette’s.

In addition, it is a place that has consistently demonstrated the consequences of elections. A backlash against President Harry Truman, who was attempting to control the rising price of meat as the country transitioned to a peacetime economy, occurred during the midterm elections of 1946 when McCarthy won a seat in the Senate.

Essentially inheriting his father’s Senate position, Robert La Follette Jr. was deposed by him.

Four years later, McCarthy made use of his new position to launch his infamous anti-communist campaign, which included the nationwide persecution of alleged communists in the federal government, Hollywood, and the liberal elite.

His ascent came to an end when Joseph Welch, an attorney for one of his targets, turned on him and spoke one of the most famous lines ever said in a congressional hearing: “Have you ever no sense of decency, sir, in the end?”

The state’s current political geography, which is based on this past, as well as ingrained ethnic migratory and economic growth trends, is both fascinating and complex.

La Follette’s former headquarters in Madison, the state’s capital and a bustling university town, still stands as a sort of Midwestern Berkeley in the state’s southern core.

In contrast to the periwinkle-blue coastline of Southern California, Madison and Milwaukee, the state’s largest metropolis, which is about 90 minutes to the east along the beaches of Lake Michigan, are encircled by an endless sea of scarlet.

As in many other American cities, even smaller Wisconsin cities like Green Bay (home of the Packers), Eau Claire (a hotly contested political battleground), Janesville (home of Paul Ryan, the former House speaker), Kenosha (hometown of Reince Priebus, a potential ally and former aide of Donald Trump), and Oshkosh (home and political base of Senator Ron Johnson) have turned blue in recent years.

Political commentators and forecasters closely follow election developments in the so-called W.O.W. counties surrounding Milwaukee — Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington — as they have historically been the epicentres of suburban G.O.P. energy. They do this to tease out any potential implications for the entire country.

Since they are essentially Minneapolis suburbs, many areas of the state’s northwest tend to change their election-related events.


The Whig Party’s disgruntled members first met in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 to discuss starting a new party with an anti-slavery platform. This is where the Republican Party first emerged.

The founding members of the movement were also repulsed by what they referred to as the “tyranny” of populist Democrat Andrew Jackson, who established a political apparatus that trampled on the traditional ways politics was conducted in America.

The state’s primaries took place on Tuesday, and the results were classic Wisconsin: Republicans chose Tim Michels, a supporter of Donald Trump and a member of the “Cease-the-Steal” movement, as their candidate to take against Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers. Rebecca Kleefisch was the institution’s favourite.

Robin Vos, the Meeting speaker who has tended to lean right on political issues but has refused to help Trump annul the results of the 2020 presidential election, narrowly managed to keep his seat.

I pestered Reid Epstein, a coworker of mine in the politics department, to tell me what was going on. Reid has forgotten more Wisconsin political history than the majority of us have ever managed to take in, and in this essay, he gives us some insight into why the state has evolved into such a hotly contested foundation for American democracy.

To make our dialogue more readable and readable, we have lightly altered it:

If I’m not mistaken, Milwaukee is where you started your journalism career. Give us an idea of how Wisconsin politics have changed since you started covering the state.

Specifically in Waukesha. I started working for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2002, covering a few Waukesha County municipalities and school districts. At the time, the Milwaukee suburbs were still covered by bureaus of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The same folks I wrote about when I was a cub reporter are still prevalent. As it turns out, decertifying the results of the 2020 elections in Wisconsin cannot be done, but the then-village president of Menomonee Falls is leading the effort.

Twenty years prior, the seeds of the division and zero-sum politics you now see in Wisconsin were just beginning to emerge.

Tim Michels was nominated by Republicans, who chose to keep Robin Vos in office. Please aid our understanding of the mixed alerts we are receiving at this time.

Effectively, it helped that Michels had more than $10 million of his own money to spend on the election and that Adam Steen, the Trump-backed challenger to Vos, couldn’t raise enough cash for even one hired staff member.

Vos, whose first election for the legislature I was there for in 2004, almost lost against a candidate with no money and no name recognition in an area where the Vos family has lived for many generations. Although it was close, he did receive it.

Reporters for the Times tend to avoid politics.

Our journalists’ impartiality is something we rely on. Although employees of the Times are entitled to vote, they are not permitted to support or campaign for political candidates or causes.

This includes contributing to or raising money for any political candidate or election-related cause, participating in marches or rallies in support of a cause, or giving money to any of these.

Why has politics in Wisconsin become such a zero-sum game? I’m thinking about recent events like the Democrats’ failed attempt to recall Gov. Scott Walker in 2012, his attack on union power, and the Legislature’s attempts to limit Tony Evers’ ability to serve as governor. How does this work? Why is there such a pronounced difference inside the state?

Conservative talk radio hosts have dominated the political and media landscape in Wisconsin for a long time. More than any other state in the country, Wisconsin’s right-wing talkers set the political narrative.

Like Fox News nationally, they make money by inciting indignation, mainly against Democrats but occasionally against fellow Republicans.

In this environment, Scott Walker grew up. When he called into the Charlie Sykes show on Milwaukee’s WTMJ, he was a backbencher state assemblyman who became widely known.

These revelations always had a villain, who was typically the Democrat or newspaper reporter the presenter had targeted that day.

By the time I arrived at my desk, my office’s voice message box was overflowing with angry callers after Sykes had spent some time criticizing one of my stories in the morning edition. Consider what elected Republicans who are on the losing end of that situation experience.

Skyes has since rebranded himself as a never-Trump podcast presenter and columnist, and he now uses his impressive rhetorical skills to attack the Republican Party, which he formerly eagerly supported. In exchange for a national platform, he has given up his local influence.

Many of the manoeuvres involving the administration of American democracy are hidden by you. Does the way these wars are being fought in Badger country seem unusual in any way?

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Voters in Wisconsin are practically irrelevant because Republicans control all the power levers. A 50-50 state where Republicans hold 61 out of 99 seats in the Meeting and 21 out of 33 seats in the Senate, it is the most gerrymandered state legislature in the country.

Democrats’ only realistic hope of advancing any kind of policy agenda in Madison at the moment may be to elect a governor who will veto legislation. Additionally, the conservative 4-to-3 majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld Republican positions—with a few exceptions made after the 2020 election—while generally toeing the party line.

Some states, like Michigan and North Carolina, have been able to resolve many of these same issues and produce an additional stage of playing that demonstrates the true balance of power between the parties. What prevented Wisconsin from doing so?

Lake Michigan and dozens of other states, Wisconsin does not allow its citizens the opportunity to petition matters into state law or the state government. As a result, the only way to save the situation is through the Legislature, where Republicans have shown no remorse about using any means necessary to keep control of the government.

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