MADISON – Four days before former President Donald Trump is scheduled to host a rally in Wisconsin for Tim Michels, Trump’s endorsed candidate for governor would not commit to supporting Trump for president in 2024.
Michels and his top two opponents in the Republican primary for governor on Monday distanced themselves from Trump during a town hall candidate forum in Milwaukee in their final meeting before voters decide which candidate will compete against Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers in November.
Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Rep. Tim Ramthun joined Michels in declining to say they would back Trump for president in two years when asked by a Republican voter whether support another run for president in light of his actions during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
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“It hasn’t changed a single thing that I’ve been doing since I’ve been in this race,” Michels said at the forum hosted by WISN (Channel 12) about his endorsement from Trump.
“Now, 2024 — I’m focused on this election right now. I have made no commitments to any candidates in 2024. What I’m focusing on is beating Tony Evers.”
Kleefisch said she is committing to supporting the Republican nominee for president, “and it looks like we have an assortment to choose from.”
Ramthun, who has been praised publicly by Trump for his unsuccessful effort to persuade his colleagues in the state Legislature to overturn his 2020 election loss, said he had Trump’s phone number but has never called it.
“People can throw their hat into the ring like we did and we are going to be vetted by the people, whether there’s three or 13 or 33 people run for president in 2024, he’s going to have to go through (it) — if he throws his hat in the ring,” Ramthun said.
“He’s going to have to go through that process again and to be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure where the nation is, right now with regard to whether or not they would vote for him again.”
The candidates’ comments represent a significant shift away from Trump since all three traveled to Trump’s Mara-a-Lago Florida resort earlier this year, in two cases to interview for an endorsement.
Since those meetings, congressional leaders have presented findings of their investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an assault spawned in part from Trump’s false claims of election fraud in Wisconsin and other states.
More:Wisconsin’s ties to Jan. 6 may become clearer as select committee focuses on effort to stop certification
Some of the testimony has revealed Trump likely knew his efforts in Wisconsin to overturn the results of the presidential election were baseless but pressed on anyway.
Trump also has in recent weeks issued a series of angry statements directed at Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his refusal to entertain proposals to decertify the 2020 election, which is an impossible request nearly two years after the results have been finalized.
The three candidates were again asked Monday, in their last debate of the primary, whether they would sign legislation to accomplish the goal that legal scholars and constitutional experts have called a fantasy.
Only Kleefisch said no.
Michels said “everything will be on the table” if he’s elected while Ramthun said he would sign the legislation, which he has proposed himself, in a “nanosecond.”
Trump said last week on his Truth Social website that Michels would have “no chance” at becoming governor if he did not remain “strong on the Rigged and Stolen Election.”
The former president plans to hold a rally at the Waukesha County fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Friday.
Contact Molly Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.