The Rise of Timothy Ramthun
One-time nobody now a candidate for governor and top demagogue in state Republican Party.
The remarkable rise of Timothy Ramthun shows just how radical — and looney — the Republican Party has become in Wisconsin. Ranthum, a Washington County resident elected to the Assembly in 2018 and reelected in 2020, was a little-known back bencher whose name seldom if ever surfaced in any news stories. Now this legislator, by simply peddling the biggest lies about the 2020 election and calling for the state to recall its electors, is driving GOP opposition to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos while launching a run for governor.
In short, by becoming the biggest demagogue in Wisconsin’s Republican Party Ramthun has become a rising political force who is now getting national attention, with a front page story in the New York Times and Rolling Stone covering his antics. He is drawing crowds in Wisconsin, was featured on Steve Bannon’s podcast, and announced his run for governor at an event where he was introduced by My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell. “I’ve got the Lord with me,” he told Rolling Stone. “I’ve got the entire state behind me.”
Vos had to go on conservative talk radio to explain — something he has done repeatedly — that what Ramthun is proposing is illegal. American presidents can only be removed from office by impeachment or a vote by the cabinet. Yet as preposterous as Ramthun’s proposal is, it has enough support from the lunatic fringe of the party that Assembly Republicans were afraid to vote against it. So the party sent the proposal to the Rules Committee where it will be buried.
Nor were they the only Republicans running scared of this nonsense. Ramthun is pushing the other two candidates for governor, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and businessman Kevin Nicholson, to the further fringes of the party. Both released new plans to give the party control of Wisconsin’s elections, and Kleefisch, who had previously said Biden won the 2020 election, refused to do so during a radio appearance on Thursday. The primary is rapidly becoming a contest of who can out-crazy the other.
But in the last six months he has won increasing attention for his claims that Biden was illegally elected. He created a video on Rumble entitled “The Calm Before the Storm” using a phrase popularized by QAnon, the conspiracy theory group that contends the government is controlled by a cabal of Satanist pedophiles.
More recently Ramthun issued a series of press releases under the heading “Let There Be Light” from his state Capitol office, that blasted Vos. “Ramthun accused Vos of acting illegally when his attorney endorsed the use of drop boxes in the 2020 election,” as WPR reported. He also criticized Vos’ role at the National Conference of State Legislatures, where the speaker served as a past president, “suggesting the conference’s support of drop boxes had led to their use in Wisconsin.” And “Vos said Ramthun falsely accused Republicans of signing a deal with Hillary Clinton‘s lawyers to authorize drop boxes.”
She quoted radio talker Mark Belling, who told his listeners this: “I cannot stress to you the strength of this revolution in Republican grassroots circles in Wisconsin against the state power structure…They want the Republican Speaker out…Virtually every member of the State Assembly is aligning him or herself with Vos and virtually all actual Republicans are furious with the selling out that is coming from Vos.”
In June the Republicans will hold their annual party convention and there’s a strong likelihood Kleefisch will be nominated for governor. Vos, in fact, warned Nicholson not to enter the race. If Kleefisch is nominated, this will help both Nicholson and Ramthun claim they are the outsider candidate, aligned against a Republican establishment that has failed to stand up for Donald Trump and his Big Lie that the election was stolen.
The irony is that Vos and the Republican establishment are reaping the whirlwind they themselves created. Ramthun is the product of a gerrymandered state where Republicans only have to win 45% of the statewide vote to gain a majority of the Assembly. Ramthun’s seat is so safe he didn’t even face a Democratic opponent in 2018 and 2020. His only fear is a potential primary opponent, but it’s impossible to run to his right. Gerrymandering rewards extremism.
And even after election recounts and some 60 court cases found no evidence of irregularities in the 2020 election, and even though Republican leaders knew Trump lost because of decline in votes for him in GOP-leaning districts, and even though Vos knew and said that Biden won the election, he and the Republicans have repeatedly cast doubt on the election and sympathized with conspiracy theories they know are untrue. They have attacked the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and have created a runaway election probe by Michael Gableman that has accomplished nothing, yet continues to get extended by Vos, raising more doubts about Wisconsin’s elections and encouraging conspiracy theories.
All of which creates a breeding ground for demagogues like Rep. Ramthun. That’s what happens when Republican leaders who “know better don’t speak up” about these conspiracy theories, as James Wigderson, former editor-in-chief of the conservative media outlet RightWisconsin, told the Wisconsin Examiner. “It encourages the lunatic wing of the Republican party to become more visible, more active, to feed off the silence of responsible Republican leaders,” Wigderson said. “It allows people like Ramthun to fill that silence with their own insane rhetoric and gain a following.”
And that following appears to be growing. As Ramthun’s website touting his run for governor declares, “It’s Tim time!”
Correction: An early version of this story wrongly described Ramthun as a lawyer.