In Wisconsin’s highly competitive gubernatorial race, Tim Michels wasn’t the likely Republican nominee. Party leaders had already rallied behind former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and they had no use for Michels and his poor electoral track record: He lost a state Senate race in 1998 and a U.S. Senate race in 2004.
But Donald Trump liked Michels’ willingness to endorse election conspiracy theories, and much of the party base appreciated the candidate’s hardline stance on banning abortions, so he managed to win the GOP nod anyway in a tough, multi-candidate fight.
In the months that followed, Michels gained support, largely in spite of himself. For example, the Republican took radical positions on elections, saying he wouldn't commit to certifying 2024 results, and in response to reporting that he and his wife donated $250,000 to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion groups, Michels used rhetoric that sounded to many like a possible call for political violence.
The GOP candidate might very well win anyway — FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Michels a 48% chance of defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — and he’s apparently making ambitious plans for his prospective administration. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Hinting at his plans to overhaul how elections are run, the Republican running for governor of Wisconsin this week said his party would permanently control the state if he wins. “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor,” construction executive Tim Michels told supporters Monday at a campaign stop.
The candidate’s candor did not seem accidental. It was not a slip of the tongue. As a video clip from the event shows, Michels appeared quite sincere — and his supporters at the campaign stop applauded in response to the comments.
If we’re being excessively charitable, I suppose it’s possible that Michels believes Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin — if he’s elected governor — because voters will love him so much that they’ll never again consider a candidate from the rival party.
But there’s no reason to play games with such rhetoric. It was obvious what Michels meant. This was clearly an instance in which a gubernatorial candidate was referring to state elections administration — a key issue in Wisconsin — and assuring voters that he intends to create a system that ensures his party has an insurmountable built-in advantage.
To be sure, this is already a critical concern in the Badger State. Republican legislators have gerrymandered Wisconsin’s district map to such an outlandish degree that the state is barely recognizable as a democracy: The GOP has rigged the system so that Republicans keep power in Madison, even when Democrats win more votes. As Mother Jones’ Ari Berman explained in a report last week:
If the redistricting maps drawn in secret by Republican staffers and passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 were unfair, the new maps adopted by Republicans in 2021, over Evers’ objections, are even more one-sided. As a result, the number of GOP-leaning seats in the state assembly has increased from 61 to 63 out of 99 and from 21 to 23 out of 33 seats in the state senate. Democrats would have to win the statewide vote by 12 points just to get to 50 seats in the assembly, according to calculations by Marquette University Law School research fellow John Johnson, while Republicans could garner a majority with just 44 percent of votes.
To hear Michels tell it, this isn’t good enough, apparently because it’s still possible for Wisconsin voters to elect some Democrats to some offices.
And so, the Republican candidate for governor intends to go further — effectively making Wisconsin’s political system voter-proof.
Each of the last four polls in the state have shown Michels narrowly ahead. Watch this space.