Takeaways from Republican Wisconsin gubernatorial debate (copy)

From left, Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Timothy Ramthun participate in a televised Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial debate Sunday.

The Republican gubernatorial debate on Sunday provided another pathetic example of the degeneration of the party that was founded 168 years ago in Ripon. The first Republicans valued democracy, respected elections and sought to extend the franchise so that governance would reflect the will of the people.

At Sunday’s debate, however, those values were tossed aside.

Instead, the three contenders — former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, millionaire Tim Michels and state Rep. Tim Ramthun of Campbellsport — stumbled over one another in order to present themselves as champions of Donald Trump’s Big Lie politics.

Kleefisch said the 2020 presidential election, in which Wisconsin voters supported Democrat Joe Biden over Trump, was “rigged” and called for abolition of the independent and bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Michels, who has embraced Trump’s endorsement, prattled on about “election fraud” and said, “My priority is election integrity” — as if there was something lawless or illegitimate about the result that gave Wisconsin’s electoral votes to Biden.

Ramthun went even further, touting his support for decertification of the 2020 election results — and actually celebrated disgraced former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s comically inept inquiry into an election that the vote count, the recount and repeated decisions by the courts have said was won by Biden.

But it wasn’t just the candidates who went off the rails.

The crowd of Republican partisans that gathered for the debate on the Marquette University campus cheered the candidates on as they peddled outrageous fantasies and outrights lies. None of the candidates made an effort to counter the lies, or to defend debate moderator Charles Benson when he did.

When Ramthun suggested, falsely, that some portion of the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in drop boxes around the state in 2020 might have been illegal, Benson clarified that this was not the case. “Just to set the record straight,” he said, “the state Supreme Court ruled that the law does not allow drop boxes. They didn’t suggest that people who voted that way voted illegally.”

The crowd booed Benson. Loudly

“I’m just telling you what the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled here,” said Benson.

Michels was on next. He could have shown leadership by defending Benson’s point. Instead, Michels took the cowards way out and ranted and raved about “these election fraud issues.”

The 2020 election was not fraudulently decided. Even Republican Sen. Ron Johnson — who will be on the ballot with the party’s gubernatorial nominee this fall — says Biden won.

The fraud that Wisconsin voters should worry about is coming from Republicans like Kleefisch, Michels and Ramthun. They are either delusional or dishonest when they claim the 2020 election was rigged or say they believe Trump won. In either case, their statements disqualify them as serious contenders for governor.

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