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Opinion | Ron Johnson is proving to be a great campaigner — for Democrats

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is getting a national reputation as the most electorally helpful Senate candidate — for Democrats.

Democrats’ strategy in Johnson’s swing state of Wisconsin is simple: They are on voters’ side; Johnson is not. State Democratic officials tell me their challenge is to make sure voters know all about Johnson’s views.

Johnson — infamous for his conspiracy theories, his racist take on Jan. 6, his involvement in the 2020 coup and his eagerness to spread Russian propaganda — has given Democrats plenty of ammunition in Wisconsin’s critical Senate race. But perhaps his most useful contribution to the Democratic campaign has been to make the Democrats’ economic populist message for them.

In February, he declared that Wisconsin had enough jobs and therefore shouldn’t make a pitch to manufacture new postal vehicles, which would create 1,000 jobs. He also handed Democrats the ultimate political gift: He attacked Social Security. He has declared repeatedly his intent to shift Social Security from an entitlement to a discretionary program, putting at risk the benefits of more than 5.8 million Wisconsinites, including more than 1 million seniors.

No wonder that President Biden singled out Johnson in his feisty speech at a Democratic National Committee gathering in Maryland on Thursday. “He wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every year,” Biden declared.

Yet Johnson isn’t backing down. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Weeks after saying Social Security and Medicare should be subjected to annual budget talks — a stance that caused political blow back from his foes — Johnson once again weighed into America’s signature social insurance program.” The report quotes Johnson saying Social Security “was set up improperly” and should have been invested in the stock market. He has also encouraged seniors to return to the workplace.

Democratic officials are dumbfounded that Johnson would grab onto the “third rail” in politics. But then again, Johnson voted against a $35 cap on insulin; against granting the Department of Health and Human Services the power to negotiate with drug companies; and against a $2,000 limit for seniors’ out of pocket drug costs. He also opposed extending Affordable Care Act subsidies that save more than 200,000 Wisconsinites roughly $800 per month.

Johnson has criticized Biden’s student loan relief plan even though, as the local NPR outlet reported, “The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education show 721,400 Wisconsin residents had an average of $30,581 [debt and] held more than $23.5 billion in federal student loan debt.”

These positions project a distinctly anti-populist, anti-worker message. Democrats are happy to make the case that Johnson opposed all these popular items but pushed for the Trump tax cut that benefited wealthy contributors. Johnson may think he’s appealing to the MAGA base, but he fails to understand that even the MAGA cult leader vowed never to cut entitlements and tried to remake the GOP’s pro-business image.

Johnson has also adopted views on key social issues that are much better suited to a deep red state than to a traditionally moderate, swing state. He reversed his stance on the gay marriage bill and has made a series of dismissive, insulting statements in favor of forced birth, suggesting women can just move from Wisconsin if they don’t like the state’s 19th century ban that was triggered when the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision. Apparently, it’s no big deal to lose reproductive rights.

Democrats are betting that in a strongly pro-choice state, Johnson’s position will turn off voters, especially women (who have been disproportionately registering to vote since Dobbs), younger voters and suburbanites. They are likely right.

Democrats could not ask for a “better” opponent than the MAGA conspiratorialist and forced-birth zealot whose economic views sound like a parody of Republicans’ plutocratic outlook. Democrats will have to fend off an expected deluge of negative ads, turn out their base and keep losses down in Wisconsin’s rural and suburban areas. But mostly, they need Johnson to keep talking about his views. That’s political gold for Democrats.

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Written by Politixia

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