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Ron Johnson’s flimsy evidence that Democrats seek to ‘change the electorate’

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“I get accused of talking about something I’d never even heard of. Okay. I don’t think I’ve ever even said the word. And I’m not going to say it now. … About this theory, all I’ve ever done is parroted exactly what Democrats have said about this.”

— Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), in an interview with “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” May 18

The mass shooting in Buffalo has brought new attention to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, embraced by some GOP lawmakers, that claims Democrats are plotting to reduce the influence of Whites in the United States.

But is Senator Johnson among them? The evidence is murky. But he is basing his comments on a mischaracterization of statements almost a decade old.

The Facts

On “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” Johnson was asked about an article that appeared on the Washington Post website that featured his photo under the headline, “Republican Senate candidates promote ‘replacement’ theory.” It was not actually a Washington Post article — it was written by the Associated Press — and Johnson had only a buried mention in the article.

“The senator has never spoken about this racist theory, and any attempt to characterize his criticism of President Biden’s inhumane open-border policies as such is a lie,” Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning told the Fact Checker.

As regular readers know, we have written often about how Johnson frames some of his more controversial statements as questions. It’s a way of avoiding accountability for the statements — after all, he’s just asking questions.

Seen in full context, our review of Johnson’s comments show he often seems to walk up to the line but does not appear to embrace the theory. He frames his questions around his outrage about the surge of migrants at the U.S. border and his belief that Biden is deliberating tolerating the surge. He then suggests it appears to be a policy to enhance the future election prospects for Democrats.

This is a subtle difference from the rhetoric of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who claims Biden is aiming for “the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”

For instance, on Wendy Bell Radio on Aug. 18, Johnson complained about estimates that since Biden took office, as many as 600,000 people may have been spotted by U.S. Border Patrol and were not captured. He attributed the problem to Biden’s border policies. “This is completely out of control,” he said. “Why are they doing it? I mean, are they literally trying to change the electorate? … I don’t know how you can come to any other conclusion.”

On the “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” when Johnson disavowed knowing about replacement theory, Johnson said: “About this theory, all I’ve ever done is parroted exactly what Democrats have said about this.” He then gave two examples to illustrate that “this has been their game plan.”

“Julián Castro said it’s going to become a purple state. Talking about Texas, get a blue state because of demographics, because of the population growth of folks from outside the state.”

Johnson is referring to a comment that Castro, then mayor of San Antonio, made on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in 2013. Castro predicted that soon Texas would deliver its electoral votes for Democrats. But he did not just mention demographics. Johnson left off a key part of Castro’s statement.

“It’s going to become a purple state and then a blue state, because of the demographics, because of the population growth of folks from outside of Texas — and because, unfortunately, the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that they’re losing the business community,” Castro said. “They’re losing the middle.”

In other words, Castro was talking about more liberal voters moving to Texas and the impact of GOP policies.

“The Center for American Progress said that we need to get behind a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country, [it] is the only way to maintain electoral strength in the future.”

As for the CAP report, Johnson also gets this wrong. The 2013 report, by Philip E. Wolgin, then an immigration policy expert at CAP, was headlined: “Immigration Is Changing the Political Landscape in Key States.” But if you read the report, it was not about immigration but instead argues that immigration policies were key for both parties to win the votes of Latinos and Asians.

There is a long discussion of demographic changes and state-level immigration policies that have swayed voters. The report does not say that Democrats hope to win the votes of undocumented immigrants once they become citizens — a long process — but that either Democrats or Republicans would win the votes of legal immigrants by supporting efforts to bring the undocumented population out of the shadows.

“These voters care deeply about how both parties talk about immigration, and use it as a litmus test for how candidates from either party feel about their communities as a whole,” the report said, claiming “immigration reform has become the number one political issue” for Latinos.

“As our nation moves toward a point where by 2043 we will have no clear racial or ethnic majority, 11 other states such as Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, and even Georgia are also reaching demographic tipping points,” the report said “Whether or not these states turn blue in the future has a lot to do with how politicians in both parties act and what they talk about on the subject of immigration reform.”

The report was written in a pre-Trump era, when it still was believed by some Republicans that supporting a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented was a possible route to election success. The report quotes Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) saying: “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on health care, if they think you want to deport their grandmother.”

Henning, in an email, said Johnson stands by his interpretation of these comments.

“For the Julián Castro quote, just because he added one additional reason he thinks the right will lose ground in Texas, he says Texas is becoming purple ‘because of demographics,’ ” she said. “Even if he said the two reasons are demographics and Republicans losing the business community, it doesn’t negate his overall statement that the Left believes that changing demographics will shift the electorate to the left.”

Regarding the CAP report, “the quote you cite, ‘Whether or not these states turn blue in the future has a lot to do with how politicians in both parties act and what they talk about on the subject of immigration reform,’ basically says that the Republican Party would have to abandon its values and jump to a far-left position on immigration in order to secure ‘electoral strength’ in the future,” Henning said. “So this quote is ceding the point that policies like mass amnesty are about securing votes from illegal immigrants.”

She noted that the report asserted that “demography is destiny” and added: “Demography is certainly destiny if you are trying to secure the votes of 11 million undocumented immigrants through mass amnesty.”

The Pinocchio Test

We will lay aside the issue about whether Johnson embraces the replacement theory. His language is careful and his point is more nuanced than the one made by many “replacement theory” advocates. But we do take issue with the supposed evidence he provides.

There’s nothing in either the Castro comment or the CAP report that suggests Democrats hope to secure the votes of illegal immigrants once they achieve a legal status though legislation pushed by Democrats. So, without that evidence, his basic claim — that Democrats seek to change the nature of electorate — starts to fall apart.

Maybe he can find better examples in the future. But for now, Johnson earns Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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