MADISON, Wis. — The Donald Trump-endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate for Wisconsin would not pledge Monday to support Trump if he runs for president again in 2024, but also did not rule out trying to decertify his loss of 2020 in the Battleground State.
Trump-backed candidate Tim Michels, at a town hall event a week before the Aug. 9 primary, also said he doesn’t believe Trump did anything wrong on Jan. 6, 2021. Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who is endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, said she would support whoever wins the Republican primary for president in 2024.
A third candidate who has made decertification a keystone of his candidacy, State Representative Tim Ramthun, also did not commit to endorsing Trump in 2024 if he ran for president.
The winner of next week’s primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November. Whoever wins will be governor in the 2024 presidential race and be able to sign or veto election law changes passed by Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled legislature.
Trump weighs heavily on the Republican primary race for governor. He endorsed Michels, who is co-owner of an energy and infrastructure construction company, passing over Kleefisch who served eight years as lieutenant governor under Scott Walker. She got an endorsement from Pence last week.
Trump has planned a rally in a conservative Milwaukee suburb for Friday night.
Michels said he won Trump’s endorsement because he was a businessman and a political outsider. But he declined to say he would support Trump in 2024.
“2024? I’m focused on this election right now,” Michels said. “I haven’t made any commitments to any candidate in 2024. What I’m focused on is beating Tony Evers.”
Kleefisch said, “I will be supporting the Republican nominee and it looks like we have an assortment to choose from.”
Ramthun, who polls show is far behind Michels and Kleefisch, said 2024 “is going to be a whole new game” and that he would support whoever wins the primary.
Ramthun pushed for the decertification of the 2020 election, which Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes. The result withstood two partial recounts, several lawsuits, a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative law firm. A review by a former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice also failed to provide evidence to undo Biden’s victory.
Michels hasn’t ruled out signing a bill to undo Trump’s loss, even though legal experts, including conservative lawyers, have said it’s unconstitutional and impossible to do. Michels said if elected governor he would review all evidence of what happened in the 2020 election and “everything will be on the table.”
Kleefisch, in his strongest comments yet on the matter, ruled out decertification.
“It’s not constitutionally possible,” she said. “There is no way to decertify an election that has already taken place.”
All three candidates have said they will accept the results of next week’s primary elections.
As for the January 6 insurrection, Michels and Kleefisch blamed those who stormed the Capitol, but not Trump, for what happened after his “Stop the Steal” rally.
“Donald Trump, he organized a rally,” Michels said. “”I haven’t seen any evidence that Donald Trump said ‘Go to the Capitol now and storm it’. I don’t think he would have…I don’t think he did anything wrong.
Kleefisch said, “At the end of the day, those people who stormed the Capitol are responsible for what they did.”
More than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. More than 340 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. More than 220 were convicted, nearly half of them to prison terms. About 150 others have trial dates extending into 2023.
A U.S. House Select Committee continues to investigate the Jan. 6 uprising and Trump’s role in it.
The town hall, hosted by WISN-TV in Milwaukee, was the Republican candidates’ last scheduled joint appearance before the election.