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What those new Wisconsin tapes tell us

“Here’s the drill: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame."
US President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wisconsin on October 17, 2020.
Donald Trump during a presidential rally at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wis., on Oct. 17, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images file

They knew right from the start.

The Trump campaign knew it had lost Wisconsin to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. But new audiotapes first published by the Associated Press confirm Trump operatives decided to ignore reality and instead “fan the flame” by spreading false allegations of fraud.

Yet more evidence, as if we even needed more evidence.

Those fraud allegations were repeatedly debunked and discredited, even as Donald Trump repeatedly demanded that the Wisconsin election be overturned, demanded costly recounts and then sued (and lost) multiple times in court. No evidence of significant fraud was ever found.

The audio tapes obtained by the AP show that on Nov. 5, 2020, two days after the election, Trump operatives acknowledged that Biden had won the Badger State by about 21,000 votes. Yet more evidence, as if we even needed more evidence.

On the tapes, the head of Trump’s Wisconsin campaign, Andrew Iverson, is heard saying:

“Here’s the drill: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election. We’ll do whatever they need (inaudible) help with. Just be on standby in case there’s any stunts we need to pull.”

No one on the conference call suggested that Trump had actually won, or that the election had been stolen.

“At the end of the day, this operation received more votes than any other Republican in Wisconsin history,” Iverson says on the tape. “Say what you want, our operation turned out Republican or DJT supporters. Democrats just got 20,000 more than us, out of Dane County and other shenanigans in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Dane.”

In all honesty, these tapes should come as absolutely no surprise. Other Republicans in the state have previously been recorded similarly acknowledging reality.

In 2021, Sen. Ron Johnson was also caught on tape admitting the election results did not appear “obviously skewed.” In a video posted by activist gadfly Lauren Windsor, Johnson said: “If all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates, he would have won. He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got, and that’s why he lost.”

And yet, recently released documents suggest that Johnson himself tried to get the Wisconsin Legislature to award Wisconsin’s electoral votes to Trump (Johnson has denied this). The House Jan.6 committee reported that a top Johnson aide attempted to give then-Vice President Mike Pence a separate, fake slate of electors before the election was certified on Jan. 6, 2021.

In the courts, Trump’s campaign asked to throw out more than 221,000 ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties, which had voted heavily for Biden. The case was later dismissed on a narrow 4-3 vote by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, under pressure from the former president, the speaker of the GOP-dominated State Assembly launched a lengthy investigation of allegations of election fraud headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

That probe quickly descended into farce, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos ended up firing Gabelman in 2022.

That probe quickly descended into farce, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos ended up firing Gabelman in 2022, calling him “an embarrassment to the state.” But by that time, the investigation had cost taxpayers more than $1 million, all while failing to satisfy Trump’s radical demands.

Indeed, Vos told the Jan. 6 committee that Trump had called him 10 times between August 2021 and July 2022. In some of those calls, Trump demanded that state legislative leaders overturn the election. “I explained that it’s not allowed under the Constitution” Vos said. “He has a different opinion.”

Vos’ refusal reportedly infuriated the former president, whose supporters continued to spread baseless conspiracy theories about the election. After the speaker said that it was impossible to decertify Biden’s victory, Trump endorsed a primary challenger to the legislative leader. After an exceptionally bitter campaign, Vos won, but only narrowly.

This ongoing fight over Trump’s election lies has left the Wisconsin GOP divided, bruised and embarrassed.

Only last month, local reporters obtained an email in which a prominent GOP activist and member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission appears to brag about suppressing the Black and Hispanic votes in last November’s election.

Such tactics are being used across the country, as the GOP clings to the Big Lie and subsequently desperate efforts to target nonexistent fraud. These efforts may even be escalating. The Washington Post reports that the Republican National Committee is planning to create a vast, new “permanent infrastructure in every state to ramp up ‘election integrity,’ activities in response to perceptions within GOP ranks of widespread fraud and abuse in the way the country selects its leaders.”

All of this is coming to light as Trump is hoping to return to the White House with a campaign that relies heavily on lies about the 2020 election.

And, of course, he’s coming back to Wisconsin.