YSDA Special: GOP Debate

The big news is that two of the three candidates on the stage tonight said they would support paid family leave. Tim Michels and Tim Ramthun both said they would support a proposal first made by South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to require that in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Well, that’s at least some progress, folks.

Beyond that I thought all the candidates did a good job of hammering away at education. That’s clearly going to be a major theme for whoever survives the primary. I thought that Michels got off the best response here, pointing out that Tony Evers has been responsible for public education in this state for a very long time, both as Superintendent and Governor. Public education is, in fact, hurting and Evers can’t run from this problem. A recent poll found that the Democrats in general have lost their traditional advantage with voters on this issue. If the Republicans can make the election a referendum on education that might tip a close election their way.

Here’s how I thought each of the candidates did.

Tim Ramthun. I had low expectations and he did he did better than I expected. He struck me as a likable, genuine, and genuinely Wisconsin, kind of guy. I’d enjoy talking with him if I found myself seated next to him at a bar. But his answer on the election question was, as expected, just plain bat-shit crazy. The results cannot be decertified and there was no fraud. As a drinking buddy, he’s in. As a governor, he’s not nearly ready for prime time. It’s a good thing he has no chance for the nomination.

Tim Michels. His ads do him a disservice. He doesn’t come off in real time nearly as jerky as he does in his commercials. But he leans heavily on his experience running a construction company. Maybe that will play in the primary and perhaps even in the general. But I’m highly skeptical. Not only do I wonder if private sector executive experience is applicable to the public sector, but I wonder if it might actually be a hindrance. Michels is steeped in an environment of top-down management where his word is the last one. And his business, for all its complexity, is about just one thing: building stuff. His objective is clear: make money. Yeah, the state builds roads, but it does a lot more. Running a huge state bureaucracy that does everything from running a massive social service system to a park system to a sprawling university system to prisons and to regulating all kinds of businesses and a dozen other things is not at all the same as running a business focussed on just one simple thing where the objective is clear. But no matter. While I might not see private sector management experience as being all that relevant to being governor, the public well might.

She looked and sounded slick as expected, but I didn’t think that Rebecca Kleefisch won tonight’s debate.

Rebecca Kleefisch. You knew she’d do the best in the debate because she had a career as a local television news anchor. She reminded the audience two or three times that she’s the mother of two girls. And she started with traditional GOP red meat — she said she wanted a flat income tax with the long-term goal of eliminating it altogether. Combined with her play to the hard-right Trumpy crowd with her answers on abortion, guns, schools and crime, it seems like she was trying to play for both the more traditionally conservative suburban Republicans and the crazy wing of her party. From a purely political perspective (never mind the content) I thought she did okay, but didn’t hit a home run.

In the end, I didn’t think either Michels or Kleefisch struck knock out blows. Given his money and his endorsements from both Trump and Tommy Thompson, I’d put my money on Michels to win on August 9th, but that’s far from a sure bet.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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