Even before the January 6 insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump, Senator Ron Johnson was pushing the Big Lie that Trump was somehow cheated out of a second term.
As chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Wisconsin Republican used the December 16 session to raise doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. In a lengthy, if largely fact-free, statement to the committee, he claimed that alleged irregularities could be grouped into three categories: “1) lax enforcement or violations of election laws and controls, 2) fraudulent votes and ballot stuffing, and 3) corruption of voting machines and software that might be programmed to add or switch votes.”
“In the time we had,” Johnson babbled, “it was impossible to fully identify and examine every allegation. But many of these irregularities raise legitimate concerns, and they do need to be taken seriously.”
That declaration was, of course, false. So outrageous was the senator’s hearing that The New York Times headlined its report, “The election is over, but Ron Johnson keeps promoting false claims of fraud.”
No surprise there. Johnson is the king of false claims—on everything from Covid-19 cures to tax-policy votes that invariably end up benefiting the senator and his campaign donors.
Johnson’s amplification of the Big Lie fostered the fantasy that the presidency was being stolen from Trump. Now, however, there’s reason to believe that Johnson’s been knowingly lying about the Big Lie.
On Sunday, when he spoke at a Republican event in Wisconsin with Lauren Windsor, a progressive activist who posed as a conservative and taped a conversation with Johnson, the senator said, “I think it’s probably true that Biden got maybe 7 million more popular votes. That’s the electoral reality. So to just say for sure that this was a stolen election, I don’t agree with that.”
In fact, Biden got 7,052,770 more votes than Trump, earning a higher percentage of the popular vote than any challenger to a sitting president since Franklin Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Those figures were known at the time that Johnson held his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. So, too, were the results of the December 14 Electoral College vote, which confirmed Biden’s defeat of Trump by a 306-232 margin.
Windsor is a self-described “progressive pugilist swamp-slayer” who has gained prominence over the past decade with multiple exposés of conservative hypocrisy, and, as executive producer of the political web show The Undercurrent, has distributed a tape of the conversation on social media. Johnson said during what he apparently thought was a private conversation, “There’s nothing obviously skewed about the results.” He even told Windsor that Trump lost because he had underperformed as compared to other Republicans. “If all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates, he would have won,” said the senator. “He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got, and that’s why he lost.”
Johnson has not announced whether he will seek a third term in next year’s election. As for the Democrats who would like to run against him in 2022, they’re having a “told you so” heyday.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, one of a number of Democrats who hopes to challenge Johnson in 2022, viewed the video and observed, “So what we’re finding out here is that Sen. Ron Johnson has been lying all this time, inciting anger and violence and destabilizing this country, all for perceived political gain? Yeah, sounds about right.”
Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes was equally skeptical. “Ron Johnson caught on video admitting that Donald Trump lost the election—and yet for months he’s encouraged the big lie, peddled conspiracy theories and sham audits, and downplayed the Jan 6 attack on our Capitol,” he commented. “Come on man.”
Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski addressed a message to taxpayers, from whom Republicans now want to extract another $680,000 to pay for a bogus probe into the 2020 results: “Ron Johnson has been lying to you. He knows Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He knows the Big Lie is just that—a lie.”