This Tuesday is the Wisconsin primary, so this is as good a time as any to talk about perhaps the stupidest millionaire senator in the U.S. Senate, Ron Johnson (yes, I am aware he has stiff competition for the title).
Wisconsin media openly derides him as Putin’s puppet or usesful idiot. For example, Urban Milwaukee reported, Ron Johnson Looks Like Russian Tool (May 3, 2021):
The news last week, first reported by the Washington Post, that the FBI gave Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator a “defensive briefing” about Russia, warning that the country was peddling false information, was just the latest in a curious history. Going back years, Ron Johnson has been deaf to information showing Russia was working to undermine the United States.
[In] September 2016, as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was one of the top 12 congressional leaders who attended a meeting where they were informed by intelligence leaders of Russia’s cyberhacking of the 2016 election.
Johnson had an opportunity to be a patriot and condemn the fact that Russia was engaged in this attack on American democracy. Instead he went along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell n keeping the whole thing quiet, issuing no statement and not one word on this.
Meanwhile Johnson engaged in a pattern of misinformation on the subject. In January 2017, after the CIA publicly released a report concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Johnson issued a statement saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.
Johnson went on to complain that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.
It’s worth noting that Wisconsin was among the states targeted by Russia’s disinformation campaign, which included efforts to discourage Black voters to vote in 2016, which may have helped Johnson as well as Trump in that election.
By 2018 Johnson had begun to part with other Republicans on Russia. He went on a trip to Russia with other Republican senators who came back condemning Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. But Johnson seemed somewhat swayed the denials of interference by Russian officials, and declared that Congress went too far in punishing Russia and “we’ve blown it way out of proportion.”
In 2019, Johnson met with Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who was promoting claims that it was the Ukraine and not Russia that interfered with the 2026 election. Telizhenko told The Washington Post last year that “he cooperated extensively with an investigation” by Johnson.
That investigation, done by the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee in 2020, and overseen by Johnson, was heavily influenced by information from Telizhenko. “Chairman Johnson… cited Mr. Telizhenko 42 times in the letters sent as part of this investigation, and ignored repeated warnings to not give credibility to disinformation,” noted Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden in a statement that later condemned the committee’s report.
Among those warnings was one that came privately from the FBI, which met with Johnson a month before his committee report was released in September of 2020. “Regarding reports that I received an FBI briefing warning me that I was a target of Russian disinformation, I can confirm I received such a briefing in August of 2020,” Johnson said in a statement to The Washington Post.
But Johnson said it was a “generalized warning” that lacked “specific information” and “I suspected that the briefing was being given to be used at some future date for the purpose that it is now being used: to offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings.”
Johnson is basically accusing the FBI of operating as an arm of the Democratic Party and seeking to embarrass him. In fact, it would appear they were trying to help him avoid getting embarrassed by disinformation.
Instead Johnson went ahead and released his report claiming nefarious connections between Ukraine and Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and pushing the narrative that it was Ukraine and not Russian interfering with America’s election. The report was widely condemned by the press as a “hatchet job” and a “rehashing of unproven allegations” and condemned by Republican Senator Mitt Romney as “a political exercise.”
And four months later the U.S. Treasure Department, then still under President Trump, announced it had “sanctioned a group of Russia-linked Ukrainians for trying to influence the 2020 election by attempting to smear President Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden,” as the Washington Post reported. Among the seven sanctioned was Telizhenko.
Telizhenko and the other six Ukrainians “have made repeated public statements advancing malicious narratives that U.S. Government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“Telizhenko sparked U.S. officials’ concern in early 2019 when he began promoting pro-Russian, anti-Biden narratives by sharing information with GOP lawmakers,” the story noted.
But Johnson fell for Telizhenko’s malicious narratives and amplified them in his Senate committee report, even after the FBI warned him it was disinformation. As Wyden put it, “By imposing sanctions on Telizhenko, the Trump administration confirms that Senate Republicans’ year-long investigation [led by Johnson] was based on Russian disinformation.”
So yes, Johnson does look like a Russian tool, which is exactly what the FBI warned him.
Sen. Ron Johnson was also recently revealed to be one of the Coup Plotters for the January 6 insurrection. He was pushing Wisconsin’s fake GQP electors to Vice President Mike Pence. The Wisconsin Examiner reported, Sen. Ron Johnson tried to transmit Wisconsin’s fake electoral votes:
Text messages between staff members for Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and then-Vice President Mike Pence show that Johnson tried to hand over fake electoral ballots for Donald Trump from Wisconsin and Michigan to Pence ahead of the certification of the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021.
[At] the House select committee hearing on Tuesday, committee members shared a text message chain that shows Johnson’s chief of staff attempting to arrange for Johnson to hand over the false ballots from Wisconsin and Michigan three weeks later when the real electoral votes were to be counted and Biden’s victory certified.
“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise,” Johnson staffer Sean Riley wrote to Pence staffer Chris Hodgson at 12:17 on Jan. 6.
“What is it?” Hodgson asks.
“Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Riley replies.
“Do not give that to him,” responds Hodgson.
Another text message released by the House committee Tuesday showed Wisconsin Republicans scrambling to respond to Trump supporters’ demands that the fake electoral ballots be sent to Washington in time for the certification.
Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, wrote in a text message on Jan. 4 at 9:02 p.m.: “Freaking trump idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the senate President. They’re gonna call one of us to tell us just what the hell is going on.”
The committee also aired video testimony Tuesday from Andrew Hitt, the former chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party and one of the fake electors who cast the ballots for Trump. Hitt, who stepped down as party chair in July 2021, testified that he was unaware his fake electoral vote would be sent to Washington.
“I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor. So that would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about, and we wouldn’t have supported,” Hitt said of the pressure campaign that used the dual slates of electors in the seven states as grounds to try to stop certification of Biden’s win.
Mel Barnes, an attorney with Law Forward, a progressive legal firm that has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s 10 fake electors, is skeptical of the claim that the Wisconsin electors did not intend for their votes to be counted on Jan. 6.
“If he and other electors didn’t want these to be counted they shouldn’t have mailed them off to Congress,” she says of Hitt.
[T]he slowness of mail delivery over the holidays might have spurred Johnson to attempt to deliver the documents in person to Pence on Jan. 6. Or, “another possible read is Johnson wanted to put Vice President Pence in an uncomfortable position on live TV,” says Barnes, “to make these the last votes that were counted or to throw the certification into chaos.”
If all this is not bad enough, Ron Johnson recently decided to “touch the third rail of American politics,” social security and medicare. Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs:
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has suggested that Social Security and Medicare be eliminated as federal entitlement programs, and that they should instead become programs approved by Congress on an annual basis as discretionary spending.
[In] an interview that aired Tuesday on “The Regular Joe Show” podcast, Johnson, who is seeking a third term in the Senate [breaking his term limit pledge not to serve more than two terms], lamented that the Social Security and Medicare programs automatically grant benefits to those who meet the qualifications — that is, to those who had been paying into the system over their working life.
“If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost,” Johnson said. “And our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on automatic pilot. It never — you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt. It’s just on automatic pilot.”
NEW: On the The Regular Joe Show, Sen. Ron. Johnson (R-WI) argues for eliminating entitlements: "Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify, you just get it no matter what the cost… We ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it's all evaluated." pic.twitter.com/bE1KUb6uJ5
— Heartland Signal (@HeartlandSignal) August 2, 2022
Johnson suggested that Social Security and Medicare be transformed into programs whose budgets are appropriated by Congress on an annual basis. He pointed out that budgets for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are approved as discretionary spending.
“What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it’s all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson said. “As long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”
Johnson’s comments prompted criticism from the White House and from Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said Democrats would fight any attempt by Republicans to “pull the rug out from under our seniors.”
“The junior senator from Wisconsin wants to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. “He has argued that the benefits which millions of Americans rely on every day shouldn’t be guaranteed, but should be subject to partisan infighting here in Washington. He would like to revoke the guarantee of Medicare and Social Security and make them discretionary. Well, you know what happens when we make things discretionary around here? All too often they get cut, or even eliminated. We don’t want to do that.”
Note: It’s not just Ron Johnson, but it’s the Republican Party’s agenda. Helaine Olen explains, Republicans are coming after Social Security. Democrats, take note.
Social Security is an enormously popular program. It’s also hugely effective. Minus their monthly check, a large number of seniors would live in financially straitened circumstances.
So, of course, the Republicans are once again taking aim at it and are, in the process, handing Democrats an issue almost as politically potent as abortion rights as they fight to hold on to their slim majorities in the November elections.
The most recent to join the fray is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). He announced earlier this week that he believes Social Security should be up for a congressional reauthorization vote every single year. “If you qualify for an entitlement, you get it no matter what the cost,” he huffed on a podcast.
The nerve of those entitled seniors. They paid faithfully into a program and expect a check. Imagine that!
This ups the ante from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who opened the Social Security floodgates earlier this year when he proposed putting all government programs — including Social Security and Medicare — up for renewal every five years.
[A]nd then there is Arizona, where Blake Masters, Sen. Mark Kelly’s Republican challenger in November, has declared himself privatization-curious when it comes to Social Security.
“We need fresh and innovative thinking, maybe we should privatize Social Security,” he said in June. “Get the government out of it.” After enormous pushback, he backtracked, saying “I shouldn’t have said ‘privatize.’ I don’t think we should … mess with Social Security.”
Definitely spoken like a man you can rely on when it’s crunch time for Social Security.
All of this leads to Michelle Cottle wondering, Why Is Ron Johnson Still Competitive Despite, You Know, Everything?
Of all the political quandaries and questions of the 2022 midterms, one burns especially bright: How is it that Senator Ron Johnson, the two-term Republican from Wisconsin, remains a remotely viable candidate for re-election?
The Trump era has given us so many … let’s say, colorful… characters. But Mr. Johnson may be the senator who most fully embodies the detached-from-reality elements of MAGA-world — the guy most likely to spend his spare time fashioning tinfoil hats while cruising QAnon message boards. His irrational and irresponsible conspiracy mongering about matters such as the Covid vaccine, the integrity of the 2020 election and who was really behind the Jan. 6 riots (“agents provocateurs”? antifa? The FBI? Nancy Pelosi?) unsettled even some of his Republican colleagues.
Mr. Johnson has gotten so out there that his brand is suffering with the voters back home. His favorability numbers have been largely underwater for the past couple of years. A June survey from the Marquette Law School Poll showed 46 percent of Wisconsin voters with an “unfavorable” view of him versus 37 percent with a “favorable” one. (Sixteen percent responded either “Don’t know” or “Haven’t heard enough.”) He is considered perhaps the most vulnerable Republican incumbent on the midterm ballot, a tempting target for Democrats scrambling to keep control of the Senate.
But Mr. Johnson is not easy pickings, and the reasons are revealing about today’s political climate — especially, how voters in a battleground state with serious economic issues and other concerns (like a pre-Civil War abortion ban still on the books) may yet again wind up hitched to a guy who spends an awful lot of time on embarrassing distractions.
For all of Mr. Johnson’s weird behavior, the June poll from Marquette showed him neck and neck with various Democratic candidates, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is expected to win his party’s nomination in Tuesday’s Senate primary.
The national political winds favor Republican candidates, and Wisconsin’s closely divided electorate has moved slightly toward the G.O.P. over the past several years, driven by a rightward shift in white, noncollege-educated men. More specifically, while Mr. Johnson isn’t known for his political savvy, he has a proven ability to claw his way back to victory after being left for dead by his party.
Winning Wisconsin is crucial in this cycle’s cage match over which party will control the Senate. That reality is enough for many in the Republican Party to hold their noses and vote for him, despite his loonier ravings. [GQP tribalism.]
At the same time, plenty of Wisconsin Republicans share at least some of his MAGA beliefs. In the Marquette poll from June, 65 percent of the state’s Republican voters said they were either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” in the 2020 results. For those who buy the line that Democrats are election-stealers on track to destroy America, Mr. Johnson’s more antidemocratic notions — like pushing the Republican-controlled state Legislature to assume oversight of federal elections — may sound perfectly reasonable. He may go off the rails at times, but at least he is a fighter.
As for the state’s independents, moderates and Republican “leaners,” it bears noting that, come campaign time, Mr. Johnson doesn’t pitch himself as a wild-eyed extremist. If anything, he works to soften his rough edges, presenting himself as a Republican that even a moderate could love.
This happened in his 2016 race, which wound up being a rematch with former Senator Russ Feingold, whom Mr. Johnson unseated in 2010. For most of the campaign, Mr. Johnson trailed Mr. Feingold — in money and polling — and the national G.O.P. abandoned him to expected defeat. That fall, his campaign retooled and began running positive ads aimed at humanizing the senator, highlighting his work with orphans from Congo and his ties to the Joseph Project, a faith-based initiative connecting poor urban residents with manufacturing jobs. His favorability numbers began rising, along with the number of voters who said he cared about people like them.
Already in this cycle, Team Johnson has rolled out ads about the Joseph Project. And, for all of Mr. Johnson’s inherent MAGAness, his paid media has been that of a more conventional Republican, hitting Democrats on inflation and public safety. Keeping the race focused on these policy areas — while steering clear of more exotic issues — is considered his key to victory.
Of course, Ron being Ron, he cannot help but mouth off in ways that seem tailored to give a campaign manager a nervous tic. This isn’t new. In his 2010 run (the one where he suggested that climate change is caused by sunspots), his unpredictable verbal stylings were an enduring source of anxiety. His team basically put him on media lockdown for the closing two weeks of the race.
And it’s not just the daffy conspiracy stuff. Witness his podcast appearance on Tuesday, in which he said that Social Security and Medicare should be subject to regular review by Congress. At times, it can feel as if the senator gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror and asks: What can I say today that will get me tossed out of office?
Mr. Johnson’s defenders insist that these gaffes are, if not exactly part of the senator’s charm, at least in line with his image as a truth-teller — and that, in any event, the opposition is terrible at exploiting the blunders. Democrats always think they are going to sink the senator with one of his impolitic utterances, a person close to the Johnson campaign told me. But this Johnson ally points out that there have been so many statements and controversies over the years and very few of them really sink in or stick with people.
Translation: Plenty of Wisconsin voters came to terms with Mr. Johnson’s brand of crazy years ago.
Of course, there are degrees of outrageousness, and it may be that Mr. Johnson has finally crossed a line with his Covid-themed rantings, including spreading anti-vaccine misinformation and hawking unsubstantiated treatments. (Listerine anyone?) One interesting change in Marquette’s polling: In 2016, significantly more voters still said they didn’t know enough about him or didn’t have a clear opinion of him to give a “favorable” or an “unfavorable” rating. In the closing weeks of the race, his unfavorables stayed pretty steady, but he managed to move a fair number of voters from the “don’t know” column to the “favorable” column, said Charles Franklin, the poll’s director. But this time, Mr. Franklin noted, the senator’s brand is more established — and not in a good way. More people are familiar with him, “and the people getting to know him seem to be forming overwhelmingly unfavorable opinions.”
Wisconsin Democrats are desperate for a win here. For them, what matters most in Tuesday’s primary is electability — who has the best shot at ousting Mr. Johnson. It is telling that the presumptive choice turned out to be the lieutenant governor, Mr. Barnes, who is the most flamboyant progressive of the bunch. (In recent weeks, Mr. Barnes’s top competitors withdrew from the race, essentially clearing the field for him.) With him, Democrats have made a clear choice in the ongoing political debate over whether it is more productive to mobilize one’s base or to court the political middle.
Mr. Barnes is seen as a rising star: young, Black, energetic, inspirational, with a working-class background and experience as a community organizer. His campaign site notes that he was “born in Milwaukee in one of the most impoverished and incarcerated ZIP codes in the state.” This stands in stark contrast with Mr. Johnson, a rich former plastics mogul who heavily funded his first Senate run by himself.
Of the Democratic pack, the lieutenant governor is seen as having the best potential to juice turnout in blue enclaves such as Milwaukee and Madison. He is also seen as the easiest for Republicans to define as a radical leftist. [Republicans say this about any Democrat.] He has in the past expressed support for shifting funding out of “overbloated” police budgets, though he has since said he does not support defunding the police. He has praised the lefty Squad in the House.
There is a photo of him holding up an “ABOLISH ICE” T-shirt. There is video from an event in July at which he called America’s founding “awful.” Last November, during a virtual forum for Senate candidates, he observed that America is the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth “because of forced labor on stolen land.”
Once the primaries are done, the Republicans’ attack on Mr. Barnes is expected to be swift and brutal.
In strategic terms, the race may essentially boil down to the question of whether Mr. Johnson can moderate his MAGA-crazy brand more successfully than Mr. Barnes can moderate his ultra-woke one.
But the bigger, more existential question for Wisconsin voters remains: Do they want to spend another six years being repped by a conspiracy-peddling, vaccine-trashing, climate change-mocking, election-doubting, Social-Security-and-Medicare-threatening MAGA mad dog?
Cheeseheads in Wisconsin twice voted for this fool over Russ Feingold, someone who intellectually and morally laps Ron Johnson. Feingold was a dedicated public servant who truly cared about policies that benefitted the American people. Ron Johnson is just a Tea Party cum MAGA/QAnon internet troll, which is what Republicans have become.
Two terms for this stupid millionaire is two too many. He needs to go.