FILE – Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks outside the US Capitol on Dec. 6, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
FILE – Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks outside the US Capitol on Dec. 6, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Former House Speaker and current congressman Mike Gallagher excoriate fellow Republicans for doing “significant damage to American democracy.”

Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and current U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher on Sunday tore into their fellow Republicans’ efforts to overturn or at least sow doubt about President-elect Joe Biden’s Nov. 3 victory over President Donald Trump.

Ryan and Gallagher each weighed in after Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin on Saturday joined Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and nine other far-right Republican senators and senators-elect to announce an attempt to reject electors from “disputed states” when Congress certifies the presidential election results on Wednesday.

“It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans,” Ryan wrote in a forceful, 198-word statement.

While Johnson and Cruz’s plan is almost certainly a nonstarter, Ryan highlighted it as a remarkable statement from sitting and incoming senators.

“The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy,” said Ryan, a Janesville native who represented Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District from 1999-2019 and unsuccessfully ran for vice president behind Mitt Romney in 2012. He has scarcely spoken publicly on current politics in the two years since he retired from Congress and joined the Fox Corporation board.

Every state has certified its election results with no major reports of fraud. The Electoral College voted on Dec. 14 to once again confirm Biden’s victory.

Despite this, Johnson and the other Republican senators said they want to overrule some electors. The Constitution grants the power of elector selection to the states, not the federal government.

“[T]o unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process—would amount to stealing power from the people and the states,” Gallagher (R-Green Bay) said in a joint statement with six other Republican US representatives.

Republicans at both the state and federal levels have sought to delegitimize and cast doubt upon the presidential election. Johnson has been at the forefront of the baseless claims of election fraud in Congress; in December, he also led a conspiracy-laden Senate hearing on non-existent voter fraud just one day after he publicly acknowledged that Biden won.

When speaking in private, Johnson reportedly admits Biden’s victory was legitimate. The senator appeared Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to defend his public conspiracy-spreading.

While Gallagher denounced Johnson’s brazen plan, he and his fellow representatives did embrace vague election-fraud concerns.

The first sentence of their joint statement reads: “We, like most Americans, are outraged at the significant abuses in our election system resulting from the reckless adoption of mail-in ballots and the lack of safeguards maintained to guarantee that only legitimate votes are cast and counted.” No one has presented evidence of mass amounts of illegitimate votes.

Related: Congressman Tom Tiffany Supports Lawsuit to Overturn the Will of Wisconsin Voters

Still, it is important to have prominent Republicans like Gallagher and Ryan speak against efforts to outright subvert the election, said Barry Burden, founding director of the Elections Research Center and UW-Madison.

“It’s hugely valuable, because without those voices, Republican voters are mostly only hearing one message from Trump and other party leaders—that the election is to be distrusted and Joe Biden will not be a legitimate president, basically that message,” Burden said. “So what those voters need is to hear an alternative set of views from within their party that they trust.”

Sam Munger, a nonpartisan election policy analyst who formerly worked in Gov. Tony Evers’ office, said one could easily view Ryan and Gallagher’s statements in a cynical light—that they are angling for future political or career opportunities by trying to appeal to moderates—but he said they also appear to be “trying to save the Republican brand from itself.”

Wisconsin Democrats joined Ryan and Gallagher over the weekend in denouncing Johnson’s scheme to reject electors. Gov. Tony Evers on Saturday called the plot “disgraceful.”

“The people of Wisconsin voted and made their voices heard and the results are clear—Joe Biden won Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes and he will be the next president of the United States,” Evers wrote in a tweet. “It’s irresponsible to claim otherwise.”

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who is running for Johnson’s Senate seat in 2022, called Johnson “a traitor to our country” in a Saturday tweet.

“Ron Johnson will do whatever it takes—lie, cheat or steal—to deprive the people of Wisconsin of their vote,” Nelson said. “He is an embarrassment to our state and a traitor to our country.”

At a legislative level in Wisconsin, Republicans such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) spent a month after the election hyping up vague, unproven “irregularities” and allegations of voter fraud. 

Those false claims culminated in a Dec. 11 joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing during which speakers—whom Republicans handpicked to testify—hawked conspiracy theories but provided no evidence to support claims of voter fraud. Legislative Democrats left the hearing midway through, calling it a “sham.”

And yet, with no evidence, state Republican lawmakers plan to tamp down on voting rights by limiting access to the “indefinitely confined” status, which allows voters to cast absentee ballots without providing a photo ID. Thousands more people claimed the status in November than in past elections, likely due to concerns about COVID-19.

“If states wish to reform their processes for future elections, that is their prerogative,” Ryan said. “But Joe Biden’s victory is entirely legitimate.”