Politics / April 4, 2024

Trump Has Now Lost to Biden in Wisconsin… Twice

While Biden faced organized opposition in the Democratic primary, Trump did not. Yet Biden got more votes and a higher percentage of the total.

John Nichols

Former president Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on April 2, 2024.

(Photographer: Daniel Steinle / Bloomberg)

Donald Trump flew into Green Bay amid Tuesday’s Wisconsin presidential primary voting to do a victory lap. Unfortunately for Trump, who has generally neglected the battleground state over the past four years, it was a victory lap for the wrong election. The former president was so focused on repeating the Big Lie about the 2020 Wisconsin election that he failed to focus on the very real problems he has in the state, as interest turns to this fall’s contest between Trump, the all but certain Republican nominee, against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Wisconsin has always been a big deal for Trump. When he took the state in 2016, beating Democrat Hillary Clinton by roughly 22,000 votes, he swung the historically blue state into the Republican column, cinching an Electoral College victory and the White House. Unfortunately for Trump and his MAGA Republican movement, 2016 was the high-water mark. Democrats won the Wisconsin governorship and every other statewide office in 2018, and then Biden beat Trump in 2020 by almost 21,000 votes. The 2020 victory put the Democratic presidential nominee on track for his own Electoral College win and a term in the White House. Democrats have kept winning in Wisconsin since then, holding the governorship and the critical position of state attorney general in 2022, and gaining a progressive majority on the state Supreme Court in 2023.

Trump never got over his 2020 defeat in the Badger State. He fought the result in the courts and failed. Then he demanded a recount and failed. But he kept spreading the false claim that he’d won.

He did it again on Tuesday, when the Republican Party’s 91-times indicted presumptive nominee flew into Green Bay to give an election day speech that was supposed to jump-start his 2024 bid in Wisconsin. But he didn’t have any fresh material. At a dreary rally in the ultimate battleground city in the ultimate battleground state, Trump delivered a rambling speech in which he claimed, “We won in 2016—we did much better in 2020, hate to say it, we did a hell of a lot better.”

That wasn’t true. But the lie fit right into a typically garrulous Trump speech that kept circling back to his repeatedly discredited assertions that the 2020 election was not legitimate and that Wisconsin had experienced “election interference at the highest level, never happened in our country before.”

Finally, after an hour of casting doubts on the credibility of elections in Wisconsin, Trump told the crowd to “go out and vote.”

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That made sense, as Trump was appearing on a presidential primary election day for both Democrats and Republicans. It was also the day for local elections in communities across the state, including Green Bay, an industrial city in a county that Democrats and Republicans have fought over for decades.

In the Democratic presidential primary, Biden faced a well-organized challenge from activists who object to his policies regarding Gaza. The effort to get voters to cast ballots for an “uninstructed delegation” option, in order to send a message to Biden, was backed by a number of Democratic state legislators and local officials, as well as groups such as Our Revolution, Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America, Voces de la Frontera Action, and Jewish Voice for Peace Action.

On the Republican side, all of Trump’s challengers had suspended their campaigns. Hence the victory lap before the polls were even closed.

So how did the voting turn out?

Biden won.

Turnout for the party primaries was roughly equivalent, with both sides drawing close to 600,000 voters. By any reasonable measure, Trump should have gotten the higher popular vote and the higher percentage of the total. But that didn’t happen.

Biden won 511,845 votes, with almost all the ballots counted, to 476,355 votes for Trump. Though their names appeared on different ballot lines for their respective primaries, that’s still a margin of more than 35,000-votes—far better than Trump’s in 2016, or Biden’s in 2020.

And the percentages were even better for Biden, who got 88.6 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, versus just 79.2 percent for Trump in the Republican primary. Most of the anti-Trump votes went to former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who suspended her campaign on March 6. But while Haley won almost 77,000 Republican primary votes Tuesday, another 20,000 went to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and almost 10,000 to former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. A notable 12,900 Republicans voted for an “uninstructed delegation”—which was fewer than the 48,162 Democrats who did so, but still a credible finish.

“Trump’s got a huge base problem,” said Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Biden’s campaign, “He does not have the will or the funds to consolidate those Haley voters.” Nor the DeSantis voters, the Christie voters, or the “uninstructed delegation” voters.

And how are Trump’s coattails looking?

Not good.

Green Bay had a City Council election on Tuesday in which a key swing seat, held by a conservative who was backed by local Republicans, was contested by Joey Prestley, a 28-year-old progressive who said, “I positioned myself as the opposite of my Trump-supporting, climate-change denying, landlord-funded opponent who has openly & publicly disparaged immigrants and members of the queer community.”

Prestley won, shifting control of the council from the conservatives to the progressives.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wikler, who is always looking up and down the ballot, highlighted Prestley’s win Tuesday night, noting, “Trump personally stumped in Green Bay tonight. MAGA—which has targeted Green Bay relentlessly with conspiracy theories—held half the City Council seats. 6-6. Tonight, that ended. First-time candidate Joey Prestley beat far-right Steven Campbell by *15 votes.* Now: 7-5.”

That’s just one race in one town. But a gleeful Wikler observed, “The GOP has to ask itself: did Trump’s visit to Green Bay cost them a City Council majority?”

Whether that’s the case or not, one thing is certain: Donald Trump’s visit to Wisconsin was not sufficient to give him a better primary night than Joe Biden.

Biden’s now 2-0 in Wisconsin, and looking to November.

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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