How a Wisconsin Republican survived a disagreement with Trump over mail-in voting
Rohn Bishop went to war against Donald Trump — and won.
In 2020, after the chairman of the Republican Party in Wisconsin’s Fond du Lac County refused to stop promoting mail-in balloting as part of his strategy to turn out voters for the then-president, the Trump campaign opened its own office in the region. The move was an attempt to sideline Bishop and the Fond du Lac County GOP because the chairman would not toe the line on mail-in balloting — that it was untrustworthy and verboten.
But Bishop’s turnout machine was so successful and preferred by local Republican activists that the county party’s office bustled down the stretch of the 2020 contest while the Trump campaign’s pop-up office was generally a ghost town. Not only did Bishop and his team hit their turnout goals after all votes were counted, after the Nov. 3 election, he was overwhelmingly reelected Fond du Lac GOP chairman despite vocally crossing Trump on such a sensitive issue.
“I wasn’t trying to cause trouble,” Bishop told the Washington Examiner in a telephone interview. “My fear at the time was that President Trump would scare Republicans away from voting.”
As to how Bishop managed to win another term as county chairman despite further disagreeing with Trump on the matter of whether the outcome in Wisconsin — Biden won the state — was legitimate? Bishop believes it is because the Republican activists who supported his reelection know he worked furiously to deliver Trump a second term. The former president won 62.5% of the vote in Fond du Lac County, more than any GOP presidential nominee in history.
“I wasn’t Never Trump,” Bishop said. “No one can look at me and say I wasn’t working hard for the Republican ticket. I handed out over 1,000 of [Trump’s] yard signs.”
In August, Bishop stepped down as Fond du Lac County GOP chairman to launch a bid for mayor of Waupun, Wisconsin.
To this day, Trump refuses to concede defeat to President Joe Biden and insists the election was stolen as part of a broad conspiracy. Some of his complaints involve the expansion of mail-in, or absentee, voting in the 2020 campaign as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin was among many states that expanded and encouraged mail-in voting, a development the former president said then would lead to massive fraud.
Throughout the campaign, and especially as Election Day approached, Trump in tweets and public comments aggressively encouraged Republican voters to avoid mail-in balloting and participate in-person at physical polling places. It was Bishop’s critical response to this rhetoric and the national news it made in the summer of last year that piqued the ire of Trump campaign headquarters and some of the former president’s staunch supporters. Bishop did not flinch.
“Most people were very appreciative of Rohn standing his ground,” said Jaedon Buchholz, who was the Trump campaign’s top field organizer in Fond du Lac County in 2020 and was appointed interim chairman of the county party. “There were a couple of people a bit annoyed by it. But I don’t recall anything major. Most of the disagreement came when the election happened, and people couldn’t accept the results.”
Like elsewhere in the United States, GOP infighting over whether Trump’s claims about his loss to Biden have merit is roiling Republicans in Fond du Lac County.
Bishop and his allies stand by their position that Wisconsin’s handling of mail-in balloting was above board and could be trusted by Republican voters. And they also reaffirmed their view that expanding access to mail-in balloting in response to the coronavirus was the right call. When Trump began discouraging mail-in voting, Bishop worried it would cost Trump reelection and boost Democrats down-ballot, and that fear drove him to reject Trump’s arguments publicly.
But other Republicans in east-central Wisconsin remain fixated on Nov. 3, 2020.
They are convinced Trump was denied his rightful claim to the state’s 10 Electoral College votes. Biden defeated Trump statewide in Wisconsin 49.6% to 48.9%. In local meetings, however, Republican voters continue to express doubts about the outcome, no matter what they are told to the contrary by GOP officials who are disappointed the 45th president lost but worried that the party will incur more damage if it does not begin to look forward.
Some of that concern is driven by Trump’s threats that Republicans might not show up to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, or even in the 2024 presidential election, unless the 2020 contest is addressed to his satisfaction. Next year, voters in Wisconsin go to the polls to elect a governor and a senator, and the state is expected to reprise its role as a key battleground two years later.
“Our Republican Party is divided in this county, with people trying to move forward and people … who still believe the [notion] that the election was stolen,” said Lisa Freiburg, a Republican and the elected county clerk of Fond du Lac County. “The election went as the election went … I spoke the other night to 70-plus people, and it’s amazing the accusations” leveled about what happened.
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