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Wisconsin Is a Microcosm. Again.

August 25, 2020
Wisconsin Is a Microcosm. Again.
KENOSHA, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 24: A flag flies in front of a department of corrections building after it was set ablaze during a second night of rioting on August 24, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioting as well as clashes between police and protesters began Sunday night after a police officer shot Jacob Blake 7 times in the back in front of his three children. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As the virus continues to spread, the Republicans kicked off their platformless convention, which mixed moments of slick production with dystopian visions of an American Hellscape under Democratic rule  Charlie Kirk opened the proceedings by declaring that Trump was the “bodyguard of Western Civilization.” Matt Gaetz warned that Democrats will “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door.” The St. Louis couple who aimed guns at protesters were featured speakers. Kimberly Guilfoyle yelled a lot.

There was more, of course. On its first night, the RNC tried to emphasize the remnants of diversity in the party, and to present some fresh faces. But it always comes back to Trump, doesn’t it?

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 69 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

Reviews were mixed. The New York Times noted the darker themes, including warnings that a “‘vengeful mob’ that would lay waste to suburban communities and turn quiet neighborhoods into war zones.”

“At times, the speakers and prerecorded videos appeared to be describing an alternate reality: one in which the nation was not nearing 180,000 deaths from the coronavirus; in which Mr. Trump had not consistently ignored serious warnings about the disease; in which the president had not spent much of his term appealing openly to xenophobia and racial animus; and in which someone other than Mr. Trump had presided over an economy that began crumbling in the spring.”

But others felt that familiar tingle up their legs. Hugh Hewitt liked it all, including the president’s rambling speech earlier in the day.

Former fierce Trump critic John Podhoretz declared the first night “very effective, to [the] media’s dismay.” Erick Erickson, who has struggled with mixed feelings but supports Trump, thought the convention probably triggered the right folks. “Democrats will hate it. But this was not a night for the Trump haters. For the Trump curious, I suspect it worked.”  Even Matt K. Lewis was moved by the GOP”s victims.

Tim Alberta was more sober, writing that the convention’s first night “featured a few strong individual performances but lacked a cohesive theme — like a stage play in which actors read from different versions of a script.”

But one of the consistent themes — and one we are going to be hearing a lot more about — is the scourge of protest violence.

And once again, Wisconsin finds itself at the epicenter of that debate. The governor here has called out the National Guard, as pictures of burning cars in Kenosha have gone viral on social media. You’ve probably seen the video that started it all. It’s horrifying stuff, as a police officer fires six shots into a black man’s back.

Here’s what you need to know, though. In Wisconsin, the state has divided into two sharply alternative reactions. Democrats are focusing on the police shooting and the need for police reform; Republicans are all-in condemning the street violence and disorder.

In other words: Wisconsin has again become a microcosm of the national debate over police and urban unrest.

Here’s an image that was widely circulating on social media yesterday. Jim Steineke, the Republican majority leader of the state Assembly tweeted out  a social media post urging protests in Madison. “This time,” he wrote, the governor and the mayor of Madison, “have been given a warning by protesters in the image below. They must act to ensure the safety of residents in our communities given this explicit threat of violence.”

This may not be representative of the sentiments of most of the protesters, but in conjunction with the viral pictures of Kenosha burning, it is quickly hardening political reactions along ideological lines.

Does this matter?  Republicans are clearly hoping that it will. As Tim Carney reports from Charlotte, the GOP is “hoping fears of antifa and riots will carry them in November.”

Democrats would make a mistake to ignore the danger here. Josh Kraushaar highlights a recent Pew poll that found that “violent crime is now the fifth-most important issue for votes, with 59% listing it as ‘very important’ to their vote. For context, it’s nearly as important to Americans as the coronavirus, which ranks fourth with 63%”

My colleague Sarah Longwell is seeing the same thing:

Politico’s Ryan Lizza writes: “It’s Nikki Haley vs. Don Jr. for the soul of the GOP: The future of the Republican Party will be decided by a clash between partial and fully unadulterated Trumpism.”

I have as usual, a somewhat darker take. This is what I told the Financial Times:

“There is no going back after four years of Trump,” he says. “It’s not just that he has changed the party, the party has changed itself. We have a voter problem. We’ve already had a fight for the soul of the Republican party, [during the 2016 race] and lost,” Mr Sykes says. “Now we’re just haggling over the spoils.”

The scriptwriters for 2020 have really upped their game with the latest developments about Jerry Falwell Jr. and the pool boy. Falwell apparently liked to watch.

We got mixed reports yesterday about whether he has resigned, would resign, or would be fired. And no, it won’t make any difference at all to evangelical voters in the election.

I get fan mail:

We have 69 days to go.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.