Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

A Radical Republican Debate

Which of GOP candidates Kleefisch, Michels and Ramthun had most extreme views in debate?

By - Jul 25th, 2022 11:54 am
Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Tim Ramthun.

Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Tim Ramthun.

The optics of last night’s GOP gubernatorial debate on WTMJ gave no clue to just how radical the Republican party has become. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessman Tim Michels and state Rep. Tim Ramthun all looked very calm, and other than Michels’ perpetually sweaty upper lip, there was no visual clue to the heated views and angry tone of the onetime party of Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, Ramthun, who is the most extreme of the three, though not by much judging by this debate, was the most low-key and friendly as a speaker. But urged on by a crowd that cheered the most extreme comments, the candidates competed for who could veer furthest right.

To their credit, TMJ moderators Charles Benson and Shannon Sims asked the candidates what proof they had of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and none could present any. Multiple recounts and lawsuits in Wisconsin, along with an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and reviews by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and very right wing Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, have found no widespread voter fraud, and no evidence to contest the victory of Democrat Joe Biden in Wisconsin.

But that didn’t prevent Ramthun from making unproven claims

“The receipts coming in on the information that supports the fraud happened and the election was manipulated and the outcome was changed, continue to come in every day,” Ramthun said, without sharing any of these “receipts” with us. Ramthun also pointed to a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court that absentee ballot drop boxes aren’t allowed under state law as evidence that the election was stolen. In fact there has been no evidence presented to date that any vote counted from an absentee drop box in Wisconsin (which were used across the state) was fraudulent.

When Benson noted that the court decision did not overrule the drop box votes in 2020 but only for future elections, the crowd booed. Just another example of media bias. Or as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has quipped, “the facts have a well-known liberal bias.”

Ramthun’s main campaign stance has been to decertify the 2020 election. Neither Michels nor Kleefisch indicated they would support decertification, a slight sign of moderation in the evening, with Michels pointing out that he would not be taking office as governor until the state was moving toward the 2024 election. But he was not about to let us think he wouldn’t be tough on legal voters in Wisconsin. After all, he was been endorsed by Donald Trump, which requires him to push the Big Lie.

Michels gave a laundry list of changes he’d make to the state’s election laws, including barring private grant money to help all municipalities in Wisconsin manage the election process that came from a group partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and a rule that allows people who are unable to leave their homes to vote absentee.

There will be “no more Zuckerbucks, no more out-of-state billionaires coming in and taking over our election process,” said Michels, and “no more unmanned ballot boxes, no more ballot harvesting, and no more indefinitely confined status.” The claim that out-of-state billionaires are interfering with Wisconsin seemed a tad ironic since Michels and his family have lived in mansions in Manhattan and Connecticut since 2013, though Michels claimed he had resided at least half the year in Wisconsin.

Not to be outdone, Kleefisch promised to create a new division within the state Department of Justice to “purge” the state’s voter rolls, presumably only if Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul was defeated in his bid for reelection. “I’m the only one on this debate stage who has actually sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” she bragged. “That’s why as your governor I’ll abolish the WEC. I will ban the use of ballot drop boxes. I will ban the use of central counts, I will ban the practice of ballot harvesting and I will ban… those Zuckerbucks.”  Once again, she offered no evidence that any of these practices resulted in any voter fraud.

All three candidates made clear they support no exceptions to the ban on abortion, for rape, incest or anything else. Kleefisch calmly blasted those who disagree: “I think it’s sick the anti-feminist myths that Democrats have tried to peddle to women like me for years that you have to somehow choose between the life of your baby and your own personal success,” Kleefisch said. “It’s a lie and Democrats don’t get to tell it anymore.”

Ramthun, by contrast, was joyous in tone. “Life begins at conception. Life is a gift from God,” he said. “It is not the child’s fault how they were conceived.”

Michels offered empathy for young pregnant women who are besieged by all those mean liberals in America. “I can only imagine what a teenage girl or a young woman who finds herself in an unexpected pregnancy is going through,” he said. “We have so many of these pro abortion zealots that are just screaming in their ear. You have to abort the baby.”

All three talked about giving these women “options” and “resources,” like more use of adoptions.

When asked their priorities for how they might spend the estimated $5.4 billion state budget surplus, all three candidates responded by talking about more government cuts and reductions in taxes. Michels declared the state is “throwing so much money at education,” and this must end. Ramthun and Kleefisch talked about moving towards eliminating the state income tax, Kleefisch pushed for a 3.4% flat tax and Ramthun offered an “innovative” idea that the state eliminate the local property tax supporting schools.

There was unanimous support for a proposal to break up Milwaukee Public Schools into smaller districts. All supported more school choice, with Michels calling for “universal school choice” in Wisconsin. Ramthun and Kleefisch claimed schools were teaching critical race theory and decried this, with Kleefisch calling it “very important we are teaching facts.” Michels called for more control by parents of K-12 education and less control by teachers and “educrats.”

All three candidates said they would refuse $1.1 billion from the federal government for expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin, a position long held by Republicans which has already cost state taxpayers $1.3 billion in just the last two-year budget.

The only other sign of moderation in the hour-long debate: Michels said he would sign a bill requiring employers to provide paid parental leave, a concept Kleefisch and Ramthun also supported. Of course, this came up in the context of ending abortion rights and finding ways to support young women who might be forced to become mothers. And whether such a proposal would be passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature is unclear. Democratic bills to provide paid family leave have failed in recent years.

Beyond the long list of right-wing policies by the three candidates came a nasty tone toward the state Capitol, the elections commission, schools and of course “the liberal mob,” as Kleefisch referred to those who dare to disagree with her. Michels, who frequently pushed his experience in business as the reason to elect him, offered a hostile view of state government and politicians, saying “a lot of people are in over their head,” and promising a review of all state agencies, saying “they won’t know what hit them.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot of fraud and abuse and inefficiencies in government,” he said, while offering no evidence of this. “I’m going to find them.”

If there was any winner in the debate it was Ramthun, who got just 3% of the vote in the last Marquette poll, while Kleefisch and Michels were in a statistical tie. He came off as more reasonable then you’d expect, given his demagogic views, and can only go up in the polls. Neither Kleefisch nor Michels landed any big blows against each other, but that has to help Michels, who was able to repeatedly push the image of the successful businessman who will clean up the Capitol, while implicitly criticizing “insiders” like Kleefisch. Never mind the party of Lincoln, Wisconsin’s GOP was once the party of Scott Walker and this debate left him looking like a moderate.

6 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: A Radical Republican Debate”

  1. Alan Bartelme says:

    Did anyone ask Michels how we’ll know he’s not illegally favoring his family’s business if he gets elected, or should we assume that as the Trump-endorsed candidate he will spend all 4 years grifting the state of WI for his own benefit?

  2. kmurphy724 says:


  3. Duane says:

    Yea, I found the upper lip sweat on Michels very unnerving. I could only take it for a couple minutes. I also was disappointed that Michels ran out of time when stating “the definition of insanity…” and not finishing because the electronic beep cut him off there. It left me on the edge of my seat waiting for the answer. (I think that “The Definition of Insanity…” could be the new promotional mission statement for today’s Republican Party).

  4. Maryg says:

    Scary…from from my POV

  5. Janice says:

    All three candidates supported training for getting skilled people back into the workforce. None of them said anything about minimum pay. None of these candidates who are prolife touched on the problem of childcare. Would they support federal or state dollars funding childcare facilities for all these workers?

  6. lobk says:

    Michels: DACA? What’s DACA? Never heard of it.
    Me: Another well-informed candidate & Rhodes Scholar who’s endorsed by fellow genius, DJT.
    Don’t get me started on FoxConned, Becky!

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