MADISON, Wis. – Ron Johnson is in an uncomfortable class of his own.
The Wisconsin Republican is the only senator in his party facing reelection next year in a state that backed Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. But rather than moderate his politics to accommodate potentially shifting voter attitudes, Johnson is focusing even more intently on cultural issues that appeal to his party's overwhelmingly white base.
He has said the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd distracted journalists from covering immigration. He has lent credence to the white supremacist “great replacement" theory. And he said he was less concerned about the predominantly white mob that staged a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January than he would have been if they were Black Lives Matter protesters.
Johnson has not committed to seeking a third term in 2022. But his seat probably will be among the most fiercely contested in a campaign year that will decide control of Congress and the future of Biden's agenda. Johnson's tactics offer a window into how Republicans may approach the midterm elections, with a focus on turning out the base and steadfastly dismissing any criticism, especially when it comes to issues of race.
“I know how just about anything any Republican or conservative will say will get taken out of context and exploited,” Johnson told The Associated Press recently, responding to a question about his comment on the Capitol riot. “And I understand exactly how the left plays the race card all the time. I understand that. But there was nothing, nothing racial in my comments at all.”
Johnson is hardly the only Republican taking this approach.
Donald Trump centered his presidential reelection campaign last year on a “law and order” message that was intended as a counter to racial justice protests, some of which turned violent, that swept the nation. While Trump lost to Biden, he won more than 10 million additional votes than he did in 2016, which may have helped the GOP narrow its gap in the House.
More recently, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California introduced a measure to censure Rep. Maxine Waters, a Black Democratic congresswoman from California, for urging people to “stay on the street” to pursue justice for Floyd. And a memo linked to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., proposed an America First Caucus hailing “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and warning of immigration's threat to the country's “unique culture.”