Republican schism over the 2020 election spills over as Speaker Vos spends a day traveling state to manage party divisions

A supporter of decertifying the 2020 election from southern Wisconsin, who did not wish to be identified, stands outside a Capitol hearing room Wednesday, March 16, 2022, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos met with a group pushing to decertify.
A supporter of decertifying the 2020 election from southern Wisconsin, who did not wish to be identified, stands outside a Capitol hearing room Wednesday, March 16, 2022, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos met with a group pushing to decertify.

PLOVER - The Legislature's top Republican fought to manage the divisions within his party Wednesday in a day of closed-door meetings that stretched from the hallways of the state Capitol to a small hotel 100 miles north in central Wisconsin.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos spent more than an hour in a Capitol hearing room with a group of Republican voters pushing to overturn the 2020 election before traveling to Plover to meet with party leaders to find unity, but was greeted with a rally largely convened to call for his ouster.

Laurie Christianson of Menomonie, center left, holds a sign promoting the decertification of the 2020 election at a rally in Plover on Wednesday. The rally was held across the street from a hotel where legislative leaders and Republican Party leaders met to discuss how to navigate 2022 while the party is divided over election issues.
Laurie Christianson of Menomonie, center left, holds a sign promoting the decertification of the 2020 election at a rally in Plover on Wednesday. The rally was held across the street from a hotel where legislative leaders and Republican Party leaders met to discuss how to navigate 2022 while the party is divided over election issues.

"I went through Act 10. I know what it's like to have some people not have all the information and not understand the ramifications of, you know, where we are. That's OK. I'm fine with it," Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after a nearly three-hour meeting with county party leaders at a conference center in a Best Western hotel in Plover.

"I feel very good about my position. Our caucus is in a good place ... I feel good in my district. So I think people want us to move on," he said, as a crowd across the street chanted "Toss Vos" and shouted "traitor."

But earlier Wednesday, Vos met with supporters of the impossible and illegal idea of decertifying the 2020 election. They viewed the event as productive for their effort because Vos told reporters afterward he now believes widespread fraud plagued the contest, despite state auditors saying otherwise.

“He has never said those words … so we got the needle to go from here to here," Jefferson Davis, a former Menomonee Falls village president who met with Vos in the Capitol, told the Plover rally crowd.

The rally featured Rep. Tim Ramthun, who is running for governor in the Republican primary largely on a platform of decertifying the 2020 election and on momentum that materialized after Vos disciplined him over false election claims.

He was kicked out of the Capitol meeting that morning by Vos, prompting Ramthun to tell reporters assembled outside the meeting that Vos could be committing a crime by not advancing legislation to decertify the 2020 vote but did not provide evidence for the claim.

Vos said he gathered a group pushing to overturn Biden's victory to hear their case for the idea of decertifying the 2020 election, which Vos and legal scholars have maintained it is an illegal fantasy. But a growing number of Republicans in the party's base agree it should happen, according to Langlade County GOP chairman Terry Brand.

"I would say half the comments had to do with decertification. And the balance of them, a lot of them didn't make any sense to me," said Brand, who supports the idea.

"I guess it was productive in the way that we identified how a lot of other county chairs feel about certain issues. It's the first time ever a meeting like this has been called."

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The discussions with decertification supporters and county party leaders were scheduled as Vos defends himself against a growing number of Republicans in the party's grassroots who view him as a roadblock to rooting out voter fraud and decertifying the 2020 election, and are calling for his resignation.

Decertification backers brought American flags and signs that read "Fix 2020 first" to the tiny third-floor Capitol hallway outside the hearing room. They held signs that read "Vos no mas," and "Prosecute Vos" at the rally in Plover.

"I've tried to do my best to get this on the front burner, to get closure. That's all I've wanted," Ramthun told reporters outside the Capitol hearing room. "You should be in there too. That's freedom of the press. That's truth and transparency. Open, honest government and right now, we're witnessing that's not the case."

Vos left the Capitol meeting after more than an hour and told reporters he maintained to the group that he won't move to decertify the election.

"I'm always open to listening to people who have differences of opinion. That's what we did today. I still believe that the Constitution and my oath that I took as an elected official does not allow me to decertify any of the elections whether I want to or not," Vos said.

The Capitol meeting scheduled after former President Donald Trump and former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whom Vos hired to review the 2020 election, called on the Legislature to take the illegal act of decertifying.

Adam Steen, who is challenging Vos in the Republican primary for the Assembly, also joined the crowds lingering outside the Capitol meeting room earlier Wednesday and later in Plover.

He said if elected he’ll push for a vote that seeks to decertify the 2020 election.

More: A who's who guide to the Republican review of Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election

“What I would like to see is a roll-call vote in the Assembly so that we can prove whether or not the Assembly, the representatives, are listening to the people,” he said.

Steen said lawmakers need to eliminate early and mail voting for most people, while making those options available to the elderly and military voters. He called his plan straightforward.

“Eight words — are you ready?” he said. “On paper, in person, hand count, one day.”

Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

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Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP schism over the 2020 election spills over