A month after President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson appeared on CNBC and said, "There's this feeling that this election was stolen, that it's not fair, that there's all kinds of fraud." Two days before the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, the Wisconsin senator added that there are 70 million Americans with "real legitimate suspicions that this election was stolen."
At face value, Johnson's rhetoric was bonkers but predictable: The GOP lawmaker is a far-right ally of Donald Trump and a man who eagerly embraces odd conspiracy theories. It surprised no one when Johnson helped fuel his party's anti-election Big Lie.
Indeed, as Republican state legislators in Wisconsin moved forward with plans for a taxpayer-financed "investigation" into election irregularities that don't exist, Johnson endorsed the effort.
With this in mind, it came as a bit of a surprise when the senator acknowledged reality when he apparently didn't know he was being recorded. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
As Wisconsin Republicans in recent days widened a review of the presidential election, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson told a woman the only reason Donald Trump lost the state was because he didn't perform as well as other GOP candidates on the ballot. The Oshkosh Republican made the comment to a liberal activist who posed as a conservative at a Republican event held Sunday. She posted a video of their exchange on Twitter on Tuesday.
"There's nothing obviously skewed about the results," the senator conceded. Noting the results from other Wisconsin races, Johnson added, "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."
As a factual matter, that's true. But as a political matter, Trump and his allies remain wedded to the idea that the former president did not, in fact, "lose," reality notwithstanding.
Or put another way, this new video creates a problem for Johnson because it shows him telling the truth about something pro-Trump Republicans are expected to lie about.
Asked for comment, the GOP senator sent a statement to the Journal Sentinel in which Johnson didn't walk back his recorded comments, but he did try to toe the party line as best he could. Indeed, the Republican touched a variety of bases, pointing to unspecified "irregularities," accusing Mark Zuckerberg's non-profit organization of "affecting local control of vote-counting," and even celebrating Trump's role in "energizing the Republican base."
The bottom line, however, remains the same: Johnson knows there's nothing "skewed" about Wisconsin's election results, and he also knows that Trump lost because he received fewer votes.
If the former president starts whining about the senator failing to be a reliable ally to the anti-election cause, at least we'll know why.