Show 21-05 (Guest: Rick Wilson)

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Rick Wilson (political consultant) – Wikipedia
Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century | The New Yorker
Republicans Aim to Seize More Power Over How Elections Are Run – The New York Times
Michigan GOP mounts ‘election integrity’ push. Democrats fear suppression. | Bridge Michigan
Annotated Guide to the For the People Act of 2021 | Brennan Center for Justice
A Summary of H.R. 1, the For the People Act | League of Women Voters
H.R.1 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): For the People Act of 2021 | | Library of Congress
H.R. 1 can’t pass the Senate. But here are some voting reforms that could. – The Washington Post
How minority rule plagues Senate: Republicans last won more support than Democrats two decades ago


Mark Brewer 0:45
Welcome to “A Republic, If You Can Keep It”. Joining us this week: outspoken political commentator Rick Wilson. His many credits, include two New York Times bestsellers, “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” and “Running Against the Devil.” He writes for The Daily Beast, Politico, the New York Daily News, the Federalist, the independent general review, and Ricochet, and he’s also a frequent guest on various cable and network news programs outlets.

Rick is a veteran Republican strategist and ad guru dating back to George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign. He left the Republican Party following the 2016 United States presidential election, and was a founder of The Lincoln Project, a Super PAC organized by current and former Republicans opposed to Donald Trump and Trumpism in the Republican Party. And that’s where your handsome host here met Rick Wilson. And Rick, welcome, the battle to keep our democratic republic goes on. And thank you for joining us today.

Rick Wilson 1:43
Hey, guys, I’m delighted to be with you.

Mark Brewer 1:45
We’ve seen recently in in Georgia. And I know there’s efforts underway in Florida and just starting here in Michigan efforts by Republican control legislators to kind of roll back the clock on voting rights and voting laws. response to having lost the election last fall, and we wanted to get your thoughts and update on what you’ve seen and what the Lincoln project has been involved with and where you see this going.

Rick Wilson 2:13
Well, again, guys, thanks for having me. It’s this is a really important topic. And and I think that we are at an inflection point in this country right now. Where the thing that happened to us in the last four years, yeah, it was about Donald Trump. But it was also about this country shifting in some very fundamental ways on both sides of the political equation, but primarily on the right side of it toward a politics that is less familiar to those of us who, you know, I have watched the ebb and flow for a little while. And a lot more familiar to folks, you know, who have watched the rise of authoritarian movements in the world. And so the challenges we face ahead as a country should be seen through that that particular inflection point that we’re at. And those challenges are whether or not we’re going to have free and fair elections, whether or not we’re going to have parties that believe in the Constitution, or whether they believe in the rule and the reign of one man or one particular philosophical movement that is defined by the one man, and I’m not one of those people goes, calls him the former guy is Donald Trump. But he unleashed something into the water into the bloodstream of America, that that is going to be an ongoing, long running challenge to the institutions of this country, and, frankly, to our political survival as a republic.

Mark Brewer 3:38
Yeah, I would definitely agree with everything you’ve said there. And there’s so many people who’ve kind of breathed the sigh of relief after, you know, we got past January 6, and after January 20, as Wow, we really dodged a bullet. The bullet still out there. I mean, it’s still aimed at us and aimed at the end in our democracy. They’re not done yet. And that’s what we’re seeing now, when the state legislatures is this, this effort to learn the lessons from the last election that that prevented them from being able to defy the will of the people defy the actual local, and game the system so that 2024 when Trump runs again, they’re able to claim victory in the state houses.

Rick Wilson 4:26
And, and you know, it’s one of those things I keep reminding my democratic friends, my friends on the left, you know, we all got together and beat the guy. But if you think this is over, and if you think that the mechanisms that are out there in the state legislators, hands right now in places like Florida and Georgia and Michigan, Wisconsin, always other states that they’ve disarmed somehow or they’re going to walk away from having those those things. Get a grip. This is this is for them existential. They see a rising shifting demographic tide, particularly in the Sunbelt, and they recognize that they’ve reached a point where the only way to win is to cheat, because it is very difficult to put together in Georgia, for instance, a winning coalition if you’re getting blown the hell out by African American voters and moderate suburban voters, so they’re going to cheat, they’re gonna make it harder, they’re going to break the system that has worked for a long time to encourage people to get in the political pool. You know, Republicans actually used to believe that, guys, they used to believe that if we got more people who were low propensity voters into the system, it would be better for the country and better for the party at the same time. And now what they really want is to reduce that voting pool, they want to shrink it down. They want to make it much wider, and much older, and much less educated. All of those things, in my mind, are anathema to a party that’s going to grow and expand. Right now it’s a party that has a limited window of appeal. And it is very much along educational lines and and and income lines. But it is not, you know, not that’s not what the democrats think they’re gonna be able to wait this thing out. It is also not as linear as it once was. You know, there was a big argument. Oh, we can take Texas we can take Texas well, Democrats got close with Beto against Ted Cruz. But that was because Ted Cruz is uniquely hateful individual. The presidential turned out to be just about, you know, they’ve shifted it, but it’s certainly a lot still. So solid majority. But for Democrats, they need to look at Texas and say, Okay, well, does a Hispanic voter we profile in Dallas, the metro look the same as the Hispanic voter we profile in the Rio Grande Valley? And the answer is no. Does a Cuban Hispanic voter look the same in Florida as a Puerto Rican Hispanic voter does in New York City? Absolutely, no. And this idea that that there’s a sort of homogenous nature to all demographic groups, is one that this country came very close to a disaster in 2020. Because and we’re beating the drum on this, you know, we had a narrow target. As you know, Jeff, you helped engineer it. We had narrow target suburban, educated, independent leaning and, and former republican leaning voters, okay. But if you are a democratic campaign, and you think, oh, the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican American voter is just like the same guy in Dallas, or Los Angeles, or Denver, as a Hispanic voter, you’re out of your damn mind, there’s a propensity for those voters to be much more likely to be pro choice, much more likely to be to be to describe themselves as more intensely religious. All these things add up to this country that has a lot of shifting pieces of the demographic puzzle. And it’s important for groups like ours, and for allies, like the that we work with, to start to really look at where you’re going to target, how you’re going to do it. What are the things you’re going to do that, you know, on the on the political tactical level? And how are you going to do it in a way that re engages Americans in this big, this big, messy democracy we had, where they haven’t given up? I mean, Republicans turned to Trump and trumpism, in part because they gave up on, you know, winning the war of ideas. They want to work personality and have a grievance. They they stopped trying to fight it out on on principle. I mean, look, when we were when we were we were youngsters, they all believed or claim to believe in limited government and fiscal responsibility. And all this. And now it’s just like, we believe in owning the libs, that’s the philosophy of the Republican Party. All right. The Democrats believe in a in a large measure in some fantasy economics that they can’t, they can’t get past and that in most states, people look at them sort of funny ago. Ah, sure. Yeah. No, okay. Great. It would be great. If we had a super effective center right party in the country, we don’t, it would be great if we had a super effective center Left Party in the country we don’t, and that the axial forces in our politics have forced people out further and further to the edges. So anyway, that’s a long rant. But But

Mark Brewer 9:26
you know what, it was a good one. I’ve got to go to my thesaurus to figure out some of that because your $10 works.

Thanks for that. Respect. I think you’re absolutely correct about problems in my party, in terms of assuming that groups are homogeneous and treating them all alike, based on broad labels. I want to ask you though, if I could you mentioned and allies in this fight against authoritarianism? You know, the most recent fights now against voter suppression, these bills that have been introduced all over the country? Who can we look to for allies? There are no We just be specific. Can the corporate community be counted on in Georgia, in Florida in Michigan, to stand up and say, you know, we’re not going down this path? This is a liberal democracy, and we don’t support it.

Rick Wilson 10:14
What do you know, I had a, I had a lobbyist from Florida sort of smugly say to me the other day. Well, you know, we’d be afraid of you guys. But you know, your friends on the left managed to fuck you up. And your friends on the right all hate you. I’m like, Hey, you know, you’re not entirely wrong. We were, we were out of the fight for the last month to some greater or lesser degree, because of all the things we’ve had to, you know, work on, after our rapid growth. But I will say this very clearly, corporate America, unless you shine a light on them, they will listen to their government affairs guy. And they will ignore everything else. And until they know that people are paying attention until the members of their boards know that their people are paying attention. And so their PR people know that the folks are paying attention, because the lobbyists will say to them, yeah, there’s some squawking out there on Twitter, but no big deal, we’ve got to make sure because, you know, Senate President so and so could really make it rough on us on this or that bill. So corporate America, you cannot look to them right now. And rely on them to be consistent allies, and you can’t rely on them to be legitimate allies in a lot of places in cases. It’s fascinating and regrettable for them, because I do think there will eventually be a market consequence to a lot of the things that they they’re doing right now, there will eventually be a market reaction to supporting people who want to overthrow the democracy. There’ll be a market reaction from consumers, when they say, Hey, you know, Delta Airlines says all the right things about diversity and inclusion and welcoming, you know, everybody into their workplace and their and their market. But they also gave, you know, $40,000, whatever the number is, to these republicans who want to make it much harder for African Americans to vote, who do you think is working at Delta in Atlanta, it’s not all the guys who look like the white boy club, at the democratic or the Republican Party of Georgia, you know, there’s a diverse workforce. So eventually, there will be pressure inside the corporate world, you know, from the inside out, and there will be pressure from the market on the outside end. But you can’t rely on that to happen organically, it has to be capitalized and energized. You have to have people who actually do that work. And that’s something that, you know, we were very engaged on that right before all these attacks on the LP started. And so, you know, we had to deal with some housekeeping, which we’re getting passed. Now we’re back in the fight of a lot of different fronts. But it is, it is a it is a matter of constant pressure attention, they need to know you’re watching, you’re looking, you see them, you’re not putting up with this Bs, you’re going to focus on it, you’re going to report on it, you’re going to talk about it, you’re going to share it. And then you will find as we have found, that when you when you touch the pressure point correctly, the corporate folks put their hands up and go Whoa, ah, not doing it. I mean, we we spoke with Microsoft, in the beginning of the the decisions to not fund the insurrectionists caucus. And they did and are still doing the right thing by not funding the insurrectionists. We have seen other companies that I’m not going to name them all right now because I’m going to cause them some agony later. We’ve seen other companies as well, we’re not going to do that. And then they’re like, Oh, well, I’m just giving to the RCC that’s not donating to Marsha Greene. I’m

Jeff Timmer 13:50
giving to Rick Scott. Right.

Rick Wilson 13:52
I gave it to the NRSCC. Senator Scott, that’s not helping Josh Hawley is it, you know? Oh, yes, I’m sorry. Did you think I just fell off the fucking pumpkin truck? You think I’m some sort of rube? You know, I mean, for God’s sake.

Jeff Timmer 14:06
So what it seems like so many people are unwilling to confront the fact that they’re the rules have fundamentally changed. There’s a site out there who was trying to undermine the Republic, the small d democracy. And there there’s this kind of natural pragmatism and corporate government affairs and lobbying world that are things are what they were, and we just went through a rough patch and in so that’s, they’re coming from a point not necessarily of we want to side with this addition. They, they just tend to think things are going to be everything’s gonna be fine. Yeah. If we just have we, and it’s not and that’s that I think they need to be educated, alarmed. Scared, you shouted out, it’s gonna take a whole lot of effort and a whole lot of force because you know, the money and The system is is you know, okay, so they said, well, they don’t give directly to the candidate committees, but they give to a leadership fund they give to another the Senatorial Committee, the congressional committee, etc, it gives them the excuse, they check their box, they go home at night, and you know, they’re done. But the damage gets done, because nothing really changes unless we hold them accountable as the money moves around. And I do think there’s a growing will to do that. I’ve seen it on the left, I’ve seen it from, you know, our allies on the center, right, the folks who were part of the the coalition to fight trumpism. But, but there’s varying degrees of wills to really make, you know, I don’t want to get involved in desktop and, you know, get involved in a confrontation with Delta, you know, cuz I can call up their government affairs person when I need to, you know, to get on a flight, you know, I don’t want to lose that entree.

Rick Wilson 15:57
Exactly. Yeah. And look, in politics, we’ve known for a long time money talks and bullshit walks. And, and, you know, there’s there are things that are the equivalent of money. And, as I have said, for a very long time, in politics, pain is the only real teacher, if they feel like, there will be a outcome that costs them either power, or resources, or position, or compromises their future, they’ll get very attentive to what’s happening, they’ll get very directed about what’s happening. Look, john alvers, in Georgia, who we called out for the fact that he was supporting a variety of these bills that were that were fundamentally anti small d democratic and anti voting rights, got very angry with us and became a fox superstar. You know, because we went after him. And we asked his employer, if they agreed with this thing. And their and their corporate clients said, we don’t want to be associated with this, what’s going on. And so he left his position, by the way under his own steam, he volunteered to resign, whatever that means. And, you know, he’s off to spend more time with his voter suppression or something like that.

Jeff Timmer 17:13
You know, to like Pluto. Mitchell’s, you know, that kind of, you know,

Rick Wilson 17:16
car, the amount of money I’ve invested with clean over the years as a campaign lawyer, you know, was considerable, and she is just, like, gone off the deep end into the stuff. She’s become like, one of the, you know, and, and unlike a Sidney Powell cleat is actually a good attorney and a smart attorney. Which, you know, I find disturbing in every possible way, but it is what it is. But yeah, a lot of these people have they live in a very different culture. And they won’t they won’t stop acting out on that culture until, until it cost them something.

Mark Brewer 17:52
Well, we will continue the conversation after a short break. We’ll be back. With those.

Continuing our conversation with Rick Wilson, recovering political consultant, best selling author, and podcast and streaming TV star welcome Hey guys,

Rick Wilson 18:52
I don’t think of the word star applies to me in any way, but but I appreciated them the less

Jeff Timmer 18:59
Twitter sensation. How about that?

Rick Wilson 19:02
Mostly sensation of nausea?

Mark Brewer 19:06
Rick, you know, we had a good discussion there about whether we can count on the corporate community to do anything. I don’t we can drill down now a little bit in terms of, you know, Georgia and Florida and you know, what you’re seeing on the ground, apart from the corporate community? Is there resistance to these voter suppression bills to this effort to you know, change the structure of our democracy in a way that really destroys it and moves in an authoritarian direction? Is there any hunger…

Rick Wilson 19:34
what they’re doing right now, And honestly, in Florida, I’ve been very blunt about this. And I have some great friends in the Democratic Party in Florida, but they could not organize a two car motorcade. There’s a reason why they’ve gotten their ass beat in Florida for a generation now. It’s because they are divided between people from South Florida, who believe that the rest of the state looks like South Florida. And a handful of you know, scattered, old Blue Dog Democrats in the panhandle and elsewhere saying wait. And so Republicans have eaten their lunch for a long time, they’re going to eat their lunch legislatively. The majorities are so large in both houses, the governor has so much power, they’re going to pass these bills, almost certainly we’re gonna fight against them, but they’re gonna pass a bunch of them. Those corporate interests in Florida have zero willingness to confront the legislature. It is a it is a very cozy system here. It is a very easy system here. If you are in it at you, and you’re a part of it on the government affairs front. And you’re a you’re going to, you know, have a very warm relationship with a bunch of Republicans, they’re going to treat you right, and you’re going to treat them right. And the money disparity is, is incomprehensible to people in other states, it must feel like what what it is, must be what it’s like to be in California, because the the lobbying core is so almost exclusively tuned to the Republican Party. So there will not be corporate pressure from outside the state to push these guys against it. And the democrats will argue it from a bunch of wrong angles. And so, you know, again, it’s one of those things that the state doesn’t need those laws with one of the best voting systems in the country. Yes, it’s a swing state. Yes, it can be purple, but republicans vastly overperformed given the current laws. And so now they want to take that and lock that in and make it a permanent fit feature, mainly because they fear a demographic shift. And they want to ensure that as in Georgia, they have engineered the battlefield to make it much harder for African Americans to vote and much harder for people that they believe should not be in the in the voting pool to be out there.

Mark Brewer 21:54
Is there any hope? And I don’t know Florida, is there any hope of going to the ballot in Florida or litigation, ultimately,

Rick Wilson 22:00
All of these, all of these laws will be litigated, every state will face litigation challenges. And those litigation challenges will in fact, probably in many cases, be successful to these bills overreach dramatically, okay, they overreach in ways that that, that once they hit the federal courts, I predict blood and feathers everywhere. Until then, though, you know, you’re going to see these things shoot through. And many of the many of the republican officials that are passing them realize that the clock on these cases will not start running for 30 or 60 days until after the bills are passed, or go into effect in some states. And then you’re gonna see it takes, you know, a year or two years to grind their way through so they believe that the 2022 elections will be played under these rules.

Mark Brewer 22:51
And what when you’re looking at a state like like Michigan, people look at it from the outside and say, oh, there’s a Republican legislature, but there’s a democrat governor, we’re off the hook. We have a unique wrinkle of being an initial where you can initiate legislation by petition and bypass the governor with a simple vote of each house of the legislature. And you can negate the governor signature, you can negate a veto by doing that. And that’s the the playbook that the republicans are about to embark on. They’re going to run a package of 39 bills, I think it is through the legislature, send it to the governor, she’s gonna veto it none. They’re gonna go to the petition drive. There, there is an opportunity to work, that they have narrow majorities there, there is the opportunity to put some outside pressure. With redistricting looming with term limits looming with ambitious Statehouse members looking to run for the Senate. If some of these corporations, some of these major national corporations, like dow, like Ford, like GM, who’ve stepped up and said they’re not in a fund, you know, people who were part of the sedition caucus, if they can exert their influence, it might cause pause, just enough legislators in the Republican majorities to at least slow down the rush to to implement these bills. And I know, you know, Mark and I have been on opposite sides of this game over this wrinkle in Michigan’s initiative law. But it clearly is, you know, violates the spirit of democracy by being able to do this. You pay for 350,000 signatures, and you get to write your own loss.

Rick Wilson 24:42
Yeah, it is. It is a dangerous. It is a dangerous element in some of these states where they have little hooks like that. And I think one of the things that Georgia they did was they took a constitutional office, the Secretary of State and by legislative fiyat took it out of the The hands of the voters and put it in the hands of the governor and the legislature. I mean, I think that’s a case in and of itself. But Michigan has that problem very, very clearly. In Florida, they have that problem, because in the 2000, in 2000, race, they are the 2000 constitutional revision, excuse me, they took Secretary state away from the people as a vote and put it in the hands of the governor. So, you know, we’ve got a lot of states that have a set of things beyond just regular legislative power, where it’s not a straight shot to keep to keep the small d democratic principles live, if there’s a group of dedicated folks on the on the wrong side of the equation who want to screw things up.

Jeff Timmer 25:48
Now, well, it certainly looks like the next two and four years have every prospect of being as or more chaotic and confrontational and problematic, as the last four were. We haven’t gone beyond trumpism.Trumpism has manifested itself and metastasized within the the Republican Party certainly and is infecting the entire center right of the of the political spectrum. And it’s, it threatens to bring down the whole system.

Mark Brewer 26:22
Yeah, these bills in Michigan, are, as Rick described the bills in Georgia and Florida, they make permanent structural changes, which will enable elections to be blocked from certification, something that we came perilously close to last fall here in Michigan, but did not happen. By changing the structure of our county canvassing boards, and other aspects of the election process. As you and Jeff have both indicated, those kinds of tactics can be used effectively, in 2022. And beyond these kinds of permanent structural changes that with a few a handful of partisan actors who don’t have the interest of the state or the country in mind, but simply partisan goals can pull off when they didn’t do last year, it is a very scary

Jeff Timmer 27:12
when you start talking about, you know, changing the role of county canvassing boards and people’s eyes glaze over because you know, they are keen, you know, it’s hard to get people jazzed up about this stuff, because they just don’t equate it to something that really impacts their lives until it’s too late. And it’s like, I can’t, I can’t go to Indiana anymore without crossing the, you know, going through the border crossing and presenting my papers.

Mark Brewer 27:37
Very few people in Michigan, I knew even knew what a county canvassing board was, until …

Jeff Timmer 27:43
I was a little one, I had no idea what the hell they did.

Mark Brewer 27:49
But unfortunately, as Jeff has indicated, and as you know, Rick, these, you know, these structures in a variety of states and a variety of ways can have an enormous impact on the outcome. You know, as you can adjust the structure, change the rules, you can change the outcome of the election, the voters be damped, in terms of what they actually said, at the polls.

Rick Wilson 28:10
Yep. It is. One of the things that the Georgia law, it allows the legislature to get in and mess with the machinery of county elections. I mean, I remember a time when republicans always wanted to devolve power as far down as possible. And and now that they want to play in these elections and manipulate the results, they want to essentially form a series of government governance and power structures that prevent people from making political decisions that they disapprove of. It’s quite something.

Mark Brewer 28:47
Right, there’s no question that these bills go in the same direction here in Michigan, that the legislature is, is basically saying we’re in charge of elections. You know, we’re not going to have a nonpartisan bipartisan system like we successfully had for decades here in Michigan. But in the end, the legislature wants to call the shots, and they are structuring our elections to make that happen like they’re doing in Georgia. And that’s

Jeff Timmer 29:10
Really scary to anybody who’s ever met legislators that should scare the bejesus out of people, that these people are going to be making decisions that will last generations.

Rick Wilson 29:20
Yeah, well, it really isn’t. But oh, thank you for having me guys. Appreciate a great conversation.

Jeff Timmer 29:26
No, thank you.

Mark Brewer 29:28
I think that’s our time for for this week. And our thanks to Rick Wilson for his thoughts on keeping the republican tax and for trying to keeping it relatively clean.

Jeff Timmer 29:40
I don’t get to work blue on this the way I’d like to.

Well, if you’d like to talk back at us, send us an email And if you like what you hear, share us on your social media and take a moment to give us a grade on Apple podcasts

Mark Brewer 29:59
And if the Republic is still standing in a week we’ll be back, Jeff and I. Thanks for listening.

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