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The MAGA Laboratory for Autocracy


At 5:01 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, Tim Ramthun was sitting in his living room with the TV on when his cellphone rang. He turned to his wife of four decades, Carolann. “Oh, the president’s calling,” he told her. She scoffed. “Hello, Mr. President,” Ramthun said to the caller. “This is Representative Ramthun. May I help you?” Carolann still didn’t believe him, until she heard the voice on the other end and almost fell out of her chair. She started recording a video of her husband, a junior member of the Wisconsin state Assembly, receiving praise from the 45th president of the United States.

Ramthun wasn’t surprised by Donald Trump’s call. A few weeks earlier, Trump had left a message on his work phone at the state Capitol at 6:30 in the morning. Trump had wanted to thank Ramthun for his continued efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, something Trump proceeded to do later that day in a written statement praising Ramthun for “putting forward a very powerful and very popular, because it’s true, resolution to decertify the 2020 Presidential Election in Wisconsin based on the recently found absolute proof of large scale voter fraud that took place.”

Now, with his wife recording the conversation, Ramthun listened as Trump asked what he could do to be helpful. He offered to endorse Ramthun, and Ramthun knew how powerful that endorsement could be running for reelection to the Assembly or seeking a higher office. Trump wasn’t the only conservative luminary to dangle an endorsement: Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow and a leader of the growing election-fraud movement in America, had twice said he’d back Ramthun. Ramthun told Trump he appreciated the pledge of support, but he wanted the former president to know that the fraud he believed he’d uncovered, and the conspiracy that tied it together, required all of his attention at the moment. First, he would pass his resolution to decertify the last presidential election, and then he would help other states follow his lead.

“If one state does this, I think others will follow,” he remembers telling Trump.

“You’re my kind of guy,” Trump replied.

More than a year later, the Republican Party remains obsessed with Trump’s defeat in 2020 and finding ways to sow doubt on that result, if not reverse it. In Arizona, conservative lawmakers and activists spent millions of dollars on a discredited “forensic audit” of every ballot cast in the state’s largest county. In Pennsylvania and Georgia, GOP legislators and candidates for office have called for their own Arizona-style reviews. There are at least 21 candidates for secretary of state across the nation who have challenged the 2020 election result. Trump leads this movement to mainstream the so-called Big Lie, calling the election “rigged” and arguing that Vice President Mike Pence had “the right to change the outcome,” and the GOP has, with few exceptions, marched in lockstep with him.

Nowhere is…


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