MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor endorsed by Donald Trump would not commit Monday to supporting Trump should he run for president again in 2024, but also didn't rule out trying to decertify his 2020 loss in the battleground state.
Trump-backed candidate Tim Michels, at a town hall event a week before the Aug. 9 primary, also said he did not think Trump did anything wrong on Jan. 6, 2021. Former Lt. Gov. 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 the keystone of his candidacy, state Rep. Tim Ramthun, also did not commit to endorsing Trump in 2024 should he run for president.
The winner of next week's primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November. Whoever wins will be governor during the 2024 presidential race and in position to sign, or veto, election law changes passed by Wisconsin's conservative-controlled Legislature.
Trump has hung heavy over the Republican primary race for governor. He endorsed Michels, who co-owns an energy and infrastructure construction company, passing over Kleefisch who served eight years as lieutenant governor under Scott Walker. She scored an endorsement from Pence last week.
Trump has scheduled a rally in a conservative Milwaukee suburb on Friday night.
Michels said he won Trump's endorsement because he is a businessman and political outsider. But he refused to say he would support Trump in 2024.
“2024? I’m focused on this election right now," Michels said. "I have made no commitment to any candidates in 2024. What I am focused on is beating Tony Evers.”
Kleefisch said, “I will support 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 was “going to be a whole new game” and he will support whoever wins the primary.
Ramthun has pushed for decertification of the 2020 election, which Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes. The outcome has withstood two partial recounts, multiple lawsuits, a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative law firm. A review by a former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice also did not turn up evidence to overturn Biden's win.
Michels did not rule out signing a bill to decertify Trump's loss, even though legal experts, including conservative attorneys, have said it is unconstitutional and impossible to do. Michels said if elected governor he would look at all the evidence of what happened in the 2020 election and “everything will be on the table."
Kleefisch, in her strongest comments to date on the issue, ruled out decertification.
“It's not constitutionally possible,” she said. “There is no path to decertifying an election that has already happened.”
All three of the candidates said they would accept the results of next week's primary election.
As for the Jan. 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 had a rally," Michels said. ““I haven't see any evidence that Donald Trump said ‘Go to the Capitol now and storm it.' I don’t think he would have done it. ... I don't think he did anything wrong.”
Kleefisch said, “Ultimately 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. Over 340 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. More than 220 have been sentenced, with nearly half of them receiving terms of imprisonment. Approximately 150 others have trial dates stretching into 2023.
A special U.S. House committee continues to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump's role in it.
The town hall, hosted by WISN-TV in Milwaukee, was the last scheduled joint appearance by the Republican candidates before the election.