Why Wisconsin Has Republicans Worried

Last Tuesday’s Wisconsin election might have been overshadowed by the news of Donald Trump’s arraignment, but Trump and his party were likely paying close attention to the race—and the dangers it portends for the GOP in 2024.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

An Iron Grip

Last Tuesday, the liberal Milwaukee County judge Janet Protasiewicz won an election that gave Wisconsin liberals a 4–3 majority on the state’s supreme court after 15 years of conservative control. The results of the state’s judicial race are a likely barometer—and a possible determinant—of the GOP’s prospects in 2024.

As my colleague Ronald Brownstein noted in the days leading up to the Wisconsin election, the contest would prove “a revealing test of the electoral strength of the most powerful wedge issues that each party is likely to stress in next year’s presidential race.” A Protasiewicz win, he wrote, would also affirm that support for legal abortion has hastened college-educated suburban voters’ collective “recoil” from the Trump GOP. “Such a shift could restore a narrow but decisive advantage for Democrats in a state at the absolute tipping point of presidential elections,” Ron explained.

In an Atlantic article last week, the former Milwaukee talk-radio host and The Bulwark editor at large Charlie Sykes doubled down on Brownstein’s assertion. “‘As long as abortion is an issue,’ one Republican legislator told me, ‘we won’t ever win another statewide election,’” Sykes wrote.

With Protasiewicz’s victory, Wisconsin Republicans may have even more to worry about than voters’ attachment to reproductive rights. That’s because, as my colleague Adam Serwer noted last weekend, Wisconsin is a notoriously fickle swing state that Republicans have gerrymandered “with scientific precision” since 2010—driven, in no small part, by its conservative-majority supreme court.

Adam writes:

Thanks to their precise drawing of legislative districts, Republicans have maintained something close to a two-thirds majority whether they won more votes or not … And year after year, the right-wing majority on the state supreme court would ensure that gerrymandered maps kept their political allies in power and safely protected from voter backlash. Some mismatch between the popular vote and legislative districts is not inherently nefarious—it just happens to be both deliberate and extreme in Wisconsin’s case.

“Extreme” is no overstatement. Robert Yablon, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a faculty co-director of the State Democracy Research Initiative, told me by email that although Democrats have won more of Wisconsin’s statewide elections in recent years than their Republican opponents have, “under the maps that the Republican-controlled legislature drew in 2011, Republicans maintained an iron grip on the legislature throughout the last decade—even in years when Democratic candidates won more votes statewide.”

Following the 2020 census, the Wisconsin Supreme Court went on to uphold revised electoral maps that further solidified Republicans’ advantage in the state. Although Wisconsin Democrats saw the reelection of Governor Tony Evers last November, Republicans claimed a two-thirds supermajority in the State Senate following a special election to fill a suburban Milwaukee seat last Tuesday. Republicans are just short of a supermajority in the state assembly and hold six of the state’s eight U.S. House seats.

But Democrats still hope to turn the Badger State around. Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its House Democrats’ Districts in Play plan for the 2024 election cycle, outlining which congressional districts the party will target in its efforts to retake control of the House. The DCCC’s plan listed Wisconsin’s first and third districts among the 31 Republican-held House seats Democrats deem particularly flippable next fall—an outlook that appears to hinge (at least in part) on the prospect of electoral redistricting. If Protasiewicz were to make good on a remark from earlier this year, in which she hinted at plans to review challenges to the state’s current electoral maps, the court could approve new maps that would improve Democrats’ odds of clawing back power in those districts.

“Having more balanced electoral maps could certainly make a difference in 2024,” Yablon told me. “There’s no guarantee that such maps would enable Democrats to win a legislative majority, but they could create meaningful competition for legislative control for the first time in more than a decade. At a minimum, Republicans would likely see their current legislative majorities shrink.”

Whether or not new electoral maps could make a difference in 2024 will, of course, depend on their being redrawn and approved in the first place—and fast.


Today’s News

  1. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sued Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio in a move to block interference by congressional Republicans in the criminal case against Donald Trump.
  2. In a dramatic effort to conserve supplies from the drought-stricken Colorado River, the Biden administration proposed a plan that would reduce the amount of water allotted to California, Arizona, and Nevada.
  3. The shooter who killed five of his colleagues at a bank in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, yesterday morning legally bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack, the interim Louisville Metro Police chief said today.

Evening Read

A baby being held by two different hands
Bettmann / Getty

The Moms Who Breastfeed Without Being Pregnant

By Sarah Zhang

While her wife was pregnant with their son, Aimee MacDonald took an unusual step of preparing her own body for the baby’s arrival. First she began taking hormones, and then for six weeks straight, she pumped her breasts day and night every two to three hours. This process tricked her body into a pregnant and then postpartum state so she could make breast milk. By the time the couple’s son arrived, she was pumping 27 ounces a day—enough to feed a baby—all without actually getting pregnant or giving birth.

And so, after a 38-hour labor and emergency C-section, MacDonald’s wife could do what many mothers who just gave birth might desperately want to but cannot: rest, sleep, and recover from surgery. Meanwhile, MacDonald tried nursing their baby. She held him to her breast, and he latched right away. Over the next 15 months, the two mothers co-nursed their son, switching back and forth, trading feedings in the middle of the night. MacDonald had breastfed her older daughter the usual way—as in, by herself—a decade earlier, and she remembered the bone-deep exhaustion. She did not want that for her wife. Inducing lactation meant they could share in the ups and the downs of breastfeeding together.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Mr. Johnson from Abbott Elementary
Gilles Mingasson / ABC

Read. Birnam Wood, Eleanor Catton’s new novel, a biting satire about the idealistic left.

Watch. Abbott Elementary (and pay special attention to Mr. Johnson, the janitor on the ABC comedy).

Play our daily crossword.


I suppose this is where I out myself as a native Wisconsinite—a cheesehead, if you will—who has followed the electoral goings-on of my home state with varying degrees of attentiveness (and mounting bafflement) in the years since my departure. But if there’s any single resource that’s helped fill in the blanks of my political literacy, it’s The Fall of Wisconsin. The 2018 book by the journalist Dan Kaufman, also from Wisconsin, traces the “conservative conquest” of a state that was, until relatively recently, taken for granted as a progressive stronghold. In case the book’s title doesn’t make it incredibly obvious, Kaufman is not exactly an ideologically impartial observer. But his deep research provides useful background for understanding the past 15 years of Badger State politics and, by extension, broader rifts in the American electorate.

— Kelli

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.