In the Wisconsin Primary, GOP voters are demanding decertification of the 2020 election
SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin – As she began her campaign for Wisconsin governor, former Republican Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch acknowledged that President Biden was legitimately elected.
But she still won’t harbor the false notion that the election can somehow be overturned, a fantasy that has gripped many of the state’s Republicans, egged on by one of their opponents, Tim Ramthun.
And for that she mourns the voters in the last few days before the primary on Tuesday.
At a campaign stop here last week, a voter, Donette Erdmann, pressed Ms Kleefisch for her endorsement by former Vice President Mike Pence, who many of Mr Trump’s most devoted supporters blame for failing to block the Jan. 6 ballot count , 2021. “I was wondering if you’re going to resort to a RINO agenda or a grand agenda,” Ms. Erdmann said, using a right-wing pejorative for disloyal Republicans.
Ms. Kleefisch’s startled response — “don’t make decisions based on what someone else does,” she warned, defending her “great agenda” — wasn’t enough.
“I will go with Tim Ramthun,” Ms. Erdmann said afterwards.
Ms. Kleefisch’s predicament illustrates how Trump’s supporters channel their anger at his 2020 election loss and misguided belief that his results on key campaign issues in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Wisconsin, a battleground state won by razor-thin wins, can be nullified in the last two presidential elections. The GOP candidates had to decide whether to tell voters they were wrong or to engage in the fiction that something can be done to reverse Mr Trump’s defeat.
Dozens of Republican voters and activists polled across the state over the past week said they wanted lawmakers to invalidate the state’s election results and reclaim its 10 electoral votes, which is not legally possible. Almost all pointed to a July decision by the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled that dropboxes used to collect ballots during the pandemic were illegal under state law, as evidence that hundreds of thousands of 2020 votes were discarded should be.
“Everyone I spoke to voted for Trump,” said Cyndy Deeg, a food processing worker from Larsen, Wisconsin. “He should be reinstated and resume the position because he never gave it up.”
There is no mechanism in Wisconsin law or federal law for a state to withdraw electoral votes or reverse presidential election results two years after the contest, a fact Ms. Kleefisch explains to voters, reporters and viewers of television debates.
Her best Wisconsin ally, former Gov. Scott Walker, said Republicans want to end discussion of Mr Trump’s defeat two years ago.
“Across the country, a great many people who love what the President has done are getting tired of hearing about 2020 and want to focus on winning 2022 and 2024,” Mr Walker said in an interview.
But even as Ms. Kleefisch fights for an agenda that limits voting access and eliminates Wisconsin’s bipartisan election commission, two Republican rivals are promising to do that and more.
Tim Michels, a wealthy construction magnate who has come under criticism to send his children to school in New York and Connecticutwhere he owns a $17 million home endorsed by Mr. Trump and says that if chosen, he will examine the legislation to decertify the results of 2020. Mr Ramthun is the state’s leading advocate for decertification, but polls show he is lagging behind Ms Kleefisch and Mr Michels. who are in a tight race.
The primary winner will face Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who has vetoed more than a dozen ballots passed by the Republican-controlled legislature over the past two years. Because of the GOP’s large majorities in the rigged legislature, a Republican governor would give a wide berth to change how the state casts and tallies votes in the 2024 presidential election.
Mr. Michels covering the Wisconsin airwaves Ads remind voters being Mr. Trump’s choice has learned that running as the former president’s nominee carries with it certain obligations.
Twice in the past few weeks he has dismissed statements that deviated from the doctrine of the Trump wing.
First, Mr. Michels said at a debate that decertifying the results of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election — which Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly urged the top Republican in the State Assembly to do — would not be a priority in his administration. He soon corrected himself, saying he was “very, very excited about this election integrity issue,” and vowed to consider signing a decertification bill if lawmakers passed one.
Then while a town hall style debate On Monday night, Mr Michels was asked if he would back a presidential bid by Mr Trump in 2024.
“I’m concentrating on this election right now,” he said. “I have not made any promises to any candidate in 2024.”
Trump supporters saw the comments as a betrayal of the former president, and the next day Mr. Michels corrected himself.
“The day President Trump announces that he will run for president in 2024, I will support and support him,” he said in Kaukauna on Tuesday.
Mr Michels declined to explain the flip-flop. “I talked about it last night,” he said after the stop in Kaukauna when his helpers and Supporters physically pushed reporters away from the candidate.
Complicating matters for Ms. Kleefisch and Mr. Michels is Mr. Ramthun, a state congressman whose campaign for governor is doing poorly in the polls but is held in high esteem by the state’s most devoted conspiracy theorists. It was Mr. Ramthun who pioneered decertification in February after congregation spokesman Robin Vos prevented it his proposal for a “cyber-forensic audit” of the 2020 election from coming to the vote.
Mr. Ramthun’s campaign is steeped in Christian nationalism and presents him as a messianic figure who will lead the state to correct what he portrays as ill-considered 2020 election results.
“I am what you have been looking for for decades,” he said at Monday’s debate.
Mr. Vos has aggressively attempted to restrict voting access in Wisconsin. In addition to passing the bills that Mr. Evers vetoed, last year he called for criminal charges against five members of the state Election Commission over guidelines they issued for voting during the pandemic, which he said violated state election law . He also ordered a $1 million investigation into the 2020 election, led by a former state Supreme Court justice, that confirmed debunked conspiracy theories.
But as with Ms Kleefisch, Mr Vos’ refusal to allow a decertification vote has exposed him to attack – in his case from a key challenger, Adam Steen, who has no paid staff and barely enough money to print and mail his campaign literature .
Mr. Steen, who was endorsed by Mr. Trump on Tuesday and received a prime speaking seat at a Trump rally Friday night in Waukeshahas built his campaign on equalizing the election and has also said he would seek to make contraception illegal.
During a lunch of cheeseburgers and cheese curdsMr Steen said he would not have challenged Mr Vos had Mr Trump been re-elected.
“Without the knowledge I have now, I don’t think I would run because it wouldn’t have been revealed,” said Mr. Steen, who drives the Lincoln Town Car a commemorative plaque from the 2017 Presidential Inauguration that says “TRUMP”. “I don’t think there was that catalyst of seeing those issues without him losing.”
Mr. Vos declined an interview. After Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Steen, Mr. Vos issued a statement repeating that decertification is impossible.
The base of the party is not convinced.
In April, a survey from Marquette University Law School found that 39 percent of state Republicans supported decertification. Since then, momentum has developed for decertification, particularly after the Wisconsin Supreme Court‘s drop box decision. That Chairman of the Election Committee of the Assemblyalong with dozens of the state’s county Republican parties, have called for the decertification of the election.
Dennis Gasper, the finance director for the Sheboygan County Republican Party, which passed a resolution last month calling on lawmakers to withdraw the state’s 10 votes from the electoral college, said he believes elected officials and Ms. Kleefisch are committed to the decertification calls of voters resisted to save themselves the grief in the news media.
“You know, the press is very powerful, and if they said what they thought, they’d be called a little crazy,” Mr. Gasper said.
Ms. Kleefisch is trying to find her way in a party that was considered her local royalty not too long ago.
A former Milwaukee television reportershe was Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy when he led Wisconsin Republicans to repeal the collective bargaining rights of most public employees, a political earthquake in state politics that led to weeks of protests and eventually undermined Democrat power here for a generation.
During two interviews last week, she dismissed ideas that she had crossed paths with Mr. Trump or that his endorsement of Mr. Michels would be crucial. She said she still supports the former president and praised his policies, although she would not commit to supporting him in 2024.
However, she acknowledged that the problem that is driving Wisconsin Republicans the most in the current post-Trump era is not grounded in reality.
“I’m not saying the passion is imaginary, I’m not saying the distrust is imaginary,” she said after her Sheboygan stop. “I’m saying that the idea that you can reject the Constitution and the laws and do things that aren’t articulated anywhere in the law is a lost cause and there’s no way that’s articulated about it.”
Mr Michels and Mr Ramthun, she said, are playing with fire by telling voters they will deliver the impossible.
“It’s irresponsible to curry favor,” she said. “You must tell the truth.”