Yesterday, as expected, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch formally announced her run for governor. She went right for the red meat, praising Donald Trump and promising to hire more cops, ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools and — in a creative and bizarre touch — vowing to send the Wisconsin National Guard to the southern border. Not the one with Illinois; the one with Mexico. It’s not clear if she will wait until they are requested or risk alarming Texans about a Wisconsin invasion.
Now, look, I’m far too classy a guy to say I told you so, but I’ve been harping for months about the Democrats’ seeming lack of urgency on the crime issue and their downplaying of the divisiveness behind CRT. Now Kleefisch has led with those two issues. Oh what the hell: I told you so!
Kleefisch spent eight years as Gov. Scott Walker’s loyal number two, she has been traveling the state and working the Republican networks. A former TV news anchor, she’s very good on camera and on the stump. Her profile should appeal to suburban women, who Democrats hope continue to move in their direction. She has to be taken very seriously.
But here’s something to cheer up the Democrats: she also has to make it through a Republican primary. And for that, she’ll have to prove her bat-shit crazy bona fides. Invading Texas is a good start for her, but she’ll need to deny climate change and the integrity of the last election and she’ll need to equate not being vaccinated and thus exposing yourself and others to a rampant COVID variant with a freedom guaranteed by God and the Bill of Rights. She’ll also have to demand that kindergarteners learn how to fire an AK-47.
This happened to even the iconic Wisconsin pol Tommy Thompson back in 2012. He had to move so far to the right in the GOP primary for the open U.S. Senate seat that he couldn’t move back to the center fast enough once he snatched the nomination. Tammy Baldwin beat him easily in the general.
It’s not clear right now if Kleefisch will have a tough primary challenge. The other announced candidates don’t come close to matching her chops, but there are two in the wings that could give her a run for her money.
Kevin Nicholson, who ran for the Republican nomination to take on Baldwin in 2018, is waiting to hear from Sen. Ron Johnson before deciding to run for his seat, if he doesn’t run for reelection, or for governor, if he does. Give him credit for candor, but that’s a curious public strategy. “I want to be your senator… or your governor, depending on which one I have a better chance of winning.”
The other serious potential candidate is lobbyist Bill McCoshen. Now, right there he’s got a problem. For the past couple of decades he’s had a successful lobbying practice. He’ll be identified as “lobbyist” Bill McCoshen or, if he’s lucky, “former lobbyist” Bill McCoshen. It’s not as bad as “reformed ax murderer” Bill McCoshen, but it’s not great.
There was also an incident in 2008 when he urinated in a tavern — which wouldn’t have been a crime in itself if it had taken place in the tavern’s rest room, but it didn’t. Now, for one thing, in many parts of the state this kind of thing is not in the least bit disqualifying. And for another thing, the in-house urination took place in Minnesota. If he had abused a Vikings logo in the process, Kleefisch should just concede right now. But more importantly, McCoshen reports that he hasn’t had a drink since. When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dusted off this story a week or so ago, McCoshen got virtually nothing but praise for his sobriety on social media — even from some Democratic operatives.
But here’s McCoshen’s bigger problem: he is certifiably not insane. McCoshen was chief of staff and then Commerce Secretary for Thompson. In those roles and as a lobbyist he’s generally won a reputation as a smart, sensible, reasonable guy who can work across the aisle. And that’s just deadly in a Republican primary.
I know McCoshen slightly and I just can’t see him frothing at the mouth over stolen elections or ranting about how it’s a mask mandate today and gun confiscation tomorrow. Even if he tries, he just doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who can pull off the nut job act.
McCoshen really is a Thompson kind of Republican. He’s associated with a group called Common Sense Wisconsin. Their response to the bogus charges of fraud in the last election is a constitutional amendment requiring that elections be run by more uniform statewide rules. For example, Wisconsin law allows early voting for up to two weeks in advance of an election, but it’s up to local election officials how much of that time to use. While this constitutional amendment is largely a solution in search of a problem, I also think it’s not all that bad of an idea, and it’s certainly not like the election limits coming out of Texas — the state, you’ll recall, that Kleefisch wants to invade.
Common Sense also has a long position paper on education that doesn’t even mention CRT. And its lead message on its home page is about limited government, a quaint old Republican idea if there ever was one.
So, for now, I’d put my money on Rebecca Kleefisch and hope that Nicholson or one of her more obscure opponents catches fire and forces her to move even further toward the crazy. That’s Gov. Tony Evers’ best chance for reelection because if the Republicans ever came to their senses and nominated a guy like McCoshen that would be real trouble.
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