Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the far-right candidate that Wisconsin Democrats are actively trying to get Republican voters to nominate in next week’s special election primary for a crucial state Senate seat. Trump, characteristically, wrote in his Truth Social post that Brandtjen “provided the platform for the investigation into the Rigged and Stolen 2020 Presidential Election, where she has doggedly pursued the truth when so many RINOS and the Fake News Media have tried to cover up this massive corruption.”
And while Trump didn’t mention either of Brandtjen’s intra-party foes in the 8th District, fellow state Rep. Dan Knodl and Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, by name, he did say, “Her RINO opponents don’t care about the State.” He continued by bringing up three of his least favorite Republicans in the nation, saying, “They are led by Liz Cheney, who lost her race in Wyoming by the biggest margin in History, Cryin’ Adam Kinzinger, and RINO Robin Vos, who barely won re-election against an opponent that no one ever heard of.”
Trump and Brandtjen were on the same side last August when they both supported that “opponent that no one ever heard of,” Adam Steen, when he challenged state Assembly Speaker Vos for renomination. Brandtjen, like Trump, invoked the Big Lie to justify her decision to go after one of Wisconsin’s most prominent Republicans, but it wasn’t enough to stop Vos from prevailing 51-49. (Vos went on to easily turn back Steen’s write-in campaign in the general election.)
Brandtjen’s GOP colleagues responded the week after Election Day by ejecting her from their caucus, with one member saying, “The continual issues from the past have led our caucus to lose trust in you.” Vos went on to remove Brandtjen, whom he called “inept,” as head of the elections committee. This week, when the New York Times asked who he was supporting in the state Senate primary, Vos responded, “Lol. Let me quote Sarah Huckabee Sanders, ‘normal vs. crazy.’ I would vote normal.”
Knodl, who signed a letter to Mike Pence asking him not to certify the results of Joe Biden's victory, hardly qualifies as “normal” under any definition, but the Republicans who prioritize preserving the new supermajority the party acquired in November thanks to gerrymandered maps would vastly prefer him to Brandtjen. That includes the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has spent over $160,000 so far on mail and digital efforts to help Knodl.
But perhaps unfortunately for both Knodl and Mobley, another group that’s involved is Keep Country First, a PAC run by allies of one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, former Illinois Rep. Kinzinger. The organization has spent at least $55,000 on digital ads blasting Brandtjen as inept, unqualified, ineffective,” though it doesn’t cite Vos as the source for those attacks. The PAC’s presence in the race, as well as its support for Cheney during her unsuccessful renomination contest, was all the prompting Trump needed to argue that these two GOP apostates were supporting Brandtjen’s foes.
Trump’s intervention comes at a time when environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, who is the only Democrat running in the April 4 general election, has been airing ads to boost Brandtjen ahead of the primary by ostensibly attacking her as “the most conservative you can be when it comes to abortion.” The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has also joined in by sending mailers to Republican voters that highlight how an anti-abortion group named her “Pro-life Legislator of the year,” language that’s also meant to make her more appealing to conservatives.
Brandtjen herself wasn’t at all concerned that Democrats were trying to meddle in the primary because they see her as a weak opponent. “It’s clear that many in the establishment of both parties would prefer to distract voters from my true record of accomplishments of fighting for the citizens in this community from tax relief to human trafficking,” she said this week, adding, “I don’t really pay much attention to whatever strategy the Democrats may or may not be utilizing.”
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