As Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature move into the final stages of enacting an antidemocratic power grab, conservative media justifications for the move are few and far between. It’s difficult to defend the indefensible, so when conservative media figures have addressed the issue, their arguments fall flat.
Following Wisconsin Democrats’ sweep of all of the statewide constitutional offices in the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature put forward a package of bills in a lame-duck session that would strip powers from Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who defeated Republican incumbent Scott Walker on Election Day, and limit other functions of the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled executive branch. Both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature passed the package on December 5 following an all-night session, and the legislation now awaits Walker’s signature. In addition to the antidemocratic stripping of powers from the incoming administration, the package includes other odious provisions such as a tax cut that will only benefit couples who make more than $200,000 a year.
Right-wing media has been largely silent on the story, perhaps because many conservative media figures don’t feel the need to stick their necks out over something so obviously wrong when the Wisconsin GOP doesn’t need any help pushing the measure through. Due to rampant gerrymandering, Democrats will hold just 36 percent of state legislative seats during the next session despite winning 54 percent of the statewide vote, meaning they will be unable to reverse the Republicans’ power grab. Legal challenges to the measures, however, are sure to follow.
The few conservative media defenders of the GOP power grab haven’t made very good arguments. Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey published an article lightly chiding Wisconsin Republicans for “graciously relieving [Evers] of some of Scott Walker’s old workload.” While acknowledging that what is happening is not fair, Morrissey excused it, saying that this is “the real world” and that (emphasis original) “the impulse behind this effort may well be understandable” because of the possibility “Democrats wouldn’t have played fair with executive authority without those restrictions.”
Rush Limbaugh's producer James Golden, who goes by the pseudonym Bo Snerdley, reacted to the package’s passage in a tweet, saying “Democrats just hate losing.” (Democratic candidates in Wisconsin received 190,000 more votes in the 2018 elections than Republican candidates.)
And on his radio show, MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt said complaints about the power grab are “falling on deaf ears with me” because “you got to go back to November and December and January of 2016 and early ‘17 when they were reminding us only one president at a time.”
HUGH HEWITT (HOST): There is controversies about elections in North Carolina and in the aftermath of elections in Wisconsin and Michigan where defeated Republicans are limiting the powers of the incoming Democrats. By the way, people who are objecting to that, you got to go back to November and December and January of 2016 and early ‘17 when they were reminding us only one president at a time. … No one was complaining then about using all your powers until the end of your term, so that’s falling on deaf ears with me.
This is an extremely poor line of reasoning to defend the GOP’s power grab in Wisconsin. Hewitt’s reference to “controversies” in North Carolina is a case where supporters of a Republican House candidate may have literally stolen the election through fraud, and his reference to Michigan is about a similar GOP legislative power grab. But Hewitt’s argument fails completely in his false equivalence between Wisconsin Republicans and the final months of the Obama administration. What the Obama administration did in its last months was an attempt to shore up legitimate actions it had taken under existing executive branch norms; the administration didn’t seek to change the system entirely. Any actions taken by the Obama administration could be checked by an incoming Republican president (who lost the popular vote) and a Republican Congress, while Wisconsin Republicans are attempting to radically alter their state government’s separation of powers.
Courtney Hagle contributed research to this post.