The letter comes courtesy of Wisconsin state Senate President Chris Kapenga (R). In it, Kapenga takes strong issue with something former president Donald Trump said about him, while taking great care to turn up the obsequiousness and make clear that Kapenga isn’t mad … he’s just disappointed. And also, he’s happy to patch things up whenever Trump might deign to addressing a loyal but relatively insignificant subject.
That might sound like an ungracious summary of what Kapenga wrote, but behold.
The crux of the matter is this: Trump this weekend decided to attack top Wisconsin Republicans for supposedly not going far enough to uncover voter fraud in the 2020 election in their state. Trump said they were “working hard to cover up election corruption” and “actively trying to prevent a Forensic Audit of the election results.” As the New York Times’s Reid J. Epstein wrote Tuesday, this shocked those leaders, given they had actually gone pretty far in entertaining Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
Trump’s broadside preceded one significant move from state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Vos suddenly faced calls for his resignation, but the next day he appointed a very conservative former state Supreme Court justice to oversee the investigation that had already been set in motion. One thing nobody can say about Trump’s attacks on his fellow partisans is that they don’t get results.
The much more emblematic response to Trump’s comments, though, came from the Republican leader of Wisconsin’s other state legislative chamber, Kapenga.
Let’s take his letter piece by piece:
Mr. President,One of the most frustrating things to watch during your Presidency was the continued attacks on you from fake news outlets with no accountability to truth. I can’t imagine the frustration you and your family felt. Unfortunately, in our positions of public service, we have to accept the reality that often “truth” in the media is no longer based on facts but simply what one feels like saying.This leads me to your recent press release stating that I am responsible for holding up a forensic audit of the Wisconsin elections. This could not be further from the truth.
This is actually a very strong start. Kapenga begins by sympathizing with Trump over his media coverage, suggesting Trump was greatly wronged in the process (which is music to Trump’s ears) — but then also suggesting Trump has now participated in this same type of effort to create facts out of “simply what one feels like saying.”
Kapenga quickly rescues himself, though, from that and the other things he’s about to say:
Let me first say that very few people have the honor of being named publicly by a United States President. I never imagined mine would be mentioned, much less in this light, from a President that I have publicly supported, and still support. I feel I need to respond even though you will likely never hear of it, as the power of your pen to mine is like Thor’s hammer to a Bobby pin.
To sum up: It’s an incredible honor to be spoken about by you in any context, even when you are impugning me.
Again though, to Kapenga’s credit, he at least calls out Trump for impugning him:
Nevertheless, I need to correct your false claim against me. I never received a call from you or any of your sources asking about the election audit. If you had, I would have told you that long before your press release I called the auditor in charge of the election audit that is taking place in Wisconsin and requested a forensic component to the audit....This leads me back to your press release. It is false, and I don’t appreciate it being done before calling me and finding out the truth.
Pretty significant claims. If you isolated these comments, they would be among the strongest Republican repudiations of Trump’s comments about voter fraud probes to date. Kapenga is essentially saying Trump is just spouting off without having any familiarity with the facts on the ground. Which, whoa, if true.
It’s also … weirdly demanding of a direct line of communication for someone who assures Trump that he needn’t pay him any attention?
This is a theme of Kapenga’s letter, as it continues:
This is what both of us have fought against. Being cut from similar cloth in our backgrounds, and knowing that reparation must always be of more value than the wrong done, I have two requests.First, I ask that you issue a press release in similar fashion that corrects the information and also encourages people to support what I have requested in the audit. Second, you owe me a round of golf at the club of your choice.
Again, he’s actually asking for a lot given his other comments. Alas, Trump to date has not yet heeded Kapenga’s request for a news release correcting his previous statements. But points for asking.
And the golf thing: demanding but also somewhat playful. It’s a great way to ask for a presidential audience while carrying the plausible deniability that you didn’t really mean to make a request that could soon be denied.
And now the conclusion:
I write this as I am about to board a plane due to a family medical emergency. In addition to my Trump socks, I will pull up my Trump/Pence mask when I board the plane, as required by federal law. I figure, if the liberals are going to force me to wear a mask, I am going to make it as painful for them as possible. I will continue to do this regardless of whether or not I ever hear from you.Thank you for doing great things as our President.Respectfully,Chris KapengaWisconsin Senate President
Kapenga is hardly the first Republican to make great pains to flatter Trump while urging the former president to chart a different course. That’s how the game has been played. Just as Trump’s attacks on fellow partisans have paid off in spades, so too has flattering Trump proved to be the best way to get through to him — often via appearances on Fox News. It’s not always sufficient, but it’s always necessary.
But noting that you’re donning both Trump socks and a Trump mask as you board a plane shortly after Trump turned his supporters against you is certainly a commentary on the state of play in the GOP — as is pledging to continue your support of someone who impugned you regardless of whether they heed your call to correct the record.
Plenty of Republicans and top Trump administration officials — and even Trump critics — have sacrificed their pride in the name of navigating the stranglehold Trump has on their party, believing that’s the best course to get what you want. Kapenga’s effort, though, is somehow both rather bold and extremely meek, all at the same time.