Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week
The long wait and speculation is over. Donald Trump has weighed in on the Republican primary for governor. Trump endorsed candidate Tim Michels saying, “Tim Michels is the best candidate to deliver meaningful solutions to these problems, and he will produce jobs like no one else can even imagine.” What does Trump’s endorsement mean for the election?
There is little doubt that Donald Trump still holds great sway in the Republican Party. Given his tremendous success as president and the legions of voters he attracted to the GOP, there are many Republican candidates who covet Trump’s endorsement. They covet it with good reason. Trump’s endorsement has the power to raise marginal candidates to be viable and to give a candidate enough support to win in a tight race. Trump’s endorsed candidates have a remarkable record of winning, but there are a couple of facts to keep in mind with that record. First, Trump has many positive qualities, but they come with some deep personal flaws. He is as narcissistic as they come and he wants to win. This has led him to endorse several candidates who were already going to win handily. This character flaw has also led him to endorse losing candidates because of personal grudges (Georgia). It also leads him to sometimes endorse the candidate that he thinks is going to win instead of who might actually be the best person for the job.
This leads us to the second fact to bear in mind with Trump endorsements. Trump’s passion to win trumps any ideology. His endorsements do not necessarily mean that the endorsee is conservative. For example, Dr. Mehmet Oz has a long-standing history of supporting gun control and big government healthcare, but he squeaked out a win in Pennsylvania over a proven conservative after Trump endorsed him. These are issues that loom large in the next Congress and Oz may prove to be a bad apple in the barrel of conservative policy.
With all of that in mind, Trump’s endorsement still matters a great deal in a tightly contested primary race like in Wisconsin. The difference of a few thousand votes could make the difference. Remembering that the Republican primary voter is not the same demographic as a general election voter, the impact of the endorsement in Wisconsin is varied.
Candidates Tim Michels, Rebecca Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson, and Tim Ramthun all wanted Trump’s endorsement, but it mattered differently for each of them. For Ramthun, Trump’s endorsement was his only path to victory, but even had he received the endorsement, he stood little chance of winning. It was a long shot and he has zero chance of winning.
Nicholson is in much the same boat as Ramthun. Nicholson is a more viable candidate than Ramthun, but with two heavyweights in the race, he needed Trump’s endorsement to put him back in the ring. Without the endorsement of Trump, Nicholson’s odds are very, very long to edge out a victory.
Then there were two. Kleefisch had sought Trump’s endorsement, but receiving it would have likely been a mixed bag for her. It would have made her a more attractive candidate for some of the more Trumpian primary voters, but might have also turned off some of the stalwart conservative base Republicans who handed Senator Ted Cruz the primary victory in 2016 instead of Trump. Kleefisch won 55% of the vote at the state Republican convention a few weeks ago demonstrating that she already enjoys significant support amongst the reliable Republican primary voter.
By endorsing Michels, Trump has probably leveraged his greatest possible impact on the race. Coming in late, Michels is blitzing the state with commercials and had already moved to a virtual tie with Kleefisch. Trump’s endorsement gives Michels unlimited free media attention from a mainstream media that still laps up whatever scrap Trump throws in their bowls. The endorsement also likely moves some voters from Nicholson and Ramthun into the Michels camp. Combined, it makes Michels the frontrunner with nine weeks to go until the election.
Perhaps endorsing Michels was inevitable for Trump. They share interests as builders and businessmen. Michels was something of an insider during the Trump administration while serving on Trump’s infrastructure task force and as a financial supporter. Michels fits the same mold of the businessman-turned-politician. But Trump is always Trump’s biggest fan and does not endorse candidates who do not demonstrate fealty.
My fervent hope remains that the Republicans have a robust debate about the issues that matter to Wisconsinites and how Gov. Tony Evers has failed the people of Wisconsin. Winning on Aug. 9 is important for the candidates. Winning on Nov. 8 is crucial for Wisconsin.