Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.
Andy Manis/AP

Wisconsin and the ‘If Only Those People Weren’t Here’ phenomenon


The national electoral trend – major population centers tend to vote Democratic, more rural areas tend to vote Republican – was certainly true in this year’s elections, especially in Wisconsin, where Dems swept all of the major races, fueled by high turnout in cities like Milwaukee and Madison.

Some GOP leaders in the state have pointed to this dynamic as a rationale to defend their ridiculous power-grab.

Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Statehouse, drew this distinction even more explicitly after the midterm election.

“If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” he said. “We would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”

It’s a jarring perspective. One of the most powerful officials in Wisconsin’s state government suggested that Republicans would maintain their grip on power, if only certain parts of his home state didn’t count.

The underlying sentiment pops up with unsettling frequency in contemporary GOP politics. After Hillary Clinton won the presidential election’s popular vote two years ago, for example, several on the right acknowledged the result, but said the totals were skewed by the results from populous blue states.

All Americans count, the argument went, but maybe Americans in California and New York shouldn’t.

In 2009, Byron York wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner in which he argued that Barack Obama’s popularity at the president’s 100-day mark should be taken with a grain of salt. York argued at the time that the Democrat’s “sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.”

In other words, to appreciate Obama’s “actual” public standing, one would have to exclude African Americans from the national picture.

I’m reminded of a line Adam Serwer came up with several years ago: “This is another example of a really bizarre genre of conservative writing, which I call ‘If Only Those People Weren’t Here.’”

It’s a sentiment that’s apparently spread to some Republican policymakers.

Update: I originally wrote that Byron York’s 2009 piece was no longer online. He reached out with an updated link, so I’ve revised the above text.