WAUKESHA – In the backyard of Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch, former President Donald Trump told a Waukesha crowd four days before the primary election that she “does not have what it takes” to defeat Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers.
Trump landed in southeastern Wisconsin on Friday to add pressure to a tight primary race between Kleefisch and construction pipeline executive Tim Michels, who is endorsed by Trump.
The former president hosted a rally in the Waukesha County fairgrounds to stump for Michels but also used the opportunity to continue to promote his false claims about his 2020 election loss in Wisconsin that has shaped the gubernatorial primary, pushing candidates to call for the abolition of the state elections commission over allegations of voter fraud that have not been proven in the two years Trump has made them.
Though his mission was to criticize Kleefisch and promote Michels, Trump leveled his strongest condemnation at Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has repeatedly refused Trump’s calls to overturn election results, and revealed to the crowd that the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Vos hired to review the 2020 election has endorsed Vos’ primary opponent.
The rally was held in an area of the state that was a key ingredient to victories Kleefisch and former Gov. Scott Walker landed before Trump was elected president in 2016. But Trump told the suburban Milwaukee crowd Kleefisch was leading a “campaign of falsehoods” and was a “handpicked candidate of the failed establishment.”
“Kleefisch complains about lobbyists but her husband is one of the biggest lobbyists in Madison,” Trump said, referring to Kleefisch’s husband, Joel Kleefisch, a lobbyist and former state lawmaker, and echoing a criticism of Kleefisch that Michels leveled earlier in the rally.
“First Tim Michels dragged Rebecca’s daughter into this race for an endorsement, and now he’s personally attacking her husband,” said Kleefisch campaign spokesman Alec Zimmerman, referring to a meeting between Trump and Michels during which Trump said he was not happy about a tweet showing Kleefisch’s daughter attending homecoming dance with the son of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, who was a swing vote in a number of lawsuits Trump pushed to overturn his election loss.
“Perhaps that’s acceptable in Connecticut, but the people of Wisconsin expect better. It’s clear that Tim Michels’ campaign is desperate and can’t be trusted.”
Michels has split time in recent years between his home in Waukesha County and a mansion outside of New York City.
Trump told the crowd to tie their discontent with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to Kleefisch, who was lieutenant governor when Republican lawmakers and Walker passed legislation to create the commission in 2015.
In his case for Michels, praised Michels Corp.’s work building tunnels and pipelines in complicated projects.
“This guy is big-time. In fact, I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'” Trump said.
State Rep. Tim Ramthun is also seeking the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary.
Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is overseeing a taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 election for Vos, led the crowd in prayer at the start of the rally, asking God to protect the former president.
His praise of Trump came after repeatedly claiming throughout the 13-month review that it was a nonpartisan endeavor.
Much of the rally targeted Vos, with his primary opponent, Adam Steen, speaking first, followed by state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who leads the Assembly’s elections committee and has clashed with Vos over his refusal to decertify the 2020 election, an impossible endeavor.
“No matter how you slice it, something seriously rotten is going on in Madison,” Steen told the crowd. “He stopped listening to people long ago and he wants to keep the Wisconsin Election Commission intact. But worst of all, he continuously obstructs the real efforts to find out what really happened in 2020,” said Steen, who also wants to take the illegal and impossible act of overturning the results of the last presidential election.
Trump on Friday revealed Gableman has endorsed Steen despite being hired by Vos.
Steen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he and Gableman planned to knock on doors over the weekend. Gableman declined to comment.
“My opponent and those who endorse him continue to focus on the extreme and unconstitutional notion that we can overturn the 2020 election,” Vos said in a statement.
“While they focus on the impossible, I will continue to focus my campaign on the conservative principles of fighting for lower taxes, enacting real election reforms, holding criminals accountable, and giving parents more control of their kid’s education.”
Trump endorsed Steen on Thursday in an aggressive move that elevated a one-sided feud Trump has pushed for more than a year to pressure Vos to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden.
The crowd began descending on the Waukesha County Expo Fairgrounds early Friday and much of them stayed for a full 12 hours when Trump took the stage at around 8:40 p.m.
Dan Pfeiffer drove from Naperville, Illinois, to see the former president. Pfeiffer, who said he once lived in Madison, said he hopes to see another governor like Scott Walker, who has endorsed Kleefisch.
But he was also impressed by Michels, who received handshakes and warm welcomes from attendees in the taco line. If he could vote in Wisconsin, Pfeiffer said, he’d be leaning toward Michels.
“Walker and Trump, both are great conservatives,” Pfeiffer said. “Whose endorsement would I weigh more? Probably Trump. He leads the Republican Party.”
Isaac Yu of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Donald Trump goes after Kleefisch, Vos in Waukesha rally for Michels