Despite announcing his current term would be his last in 2016, it is unclear whether Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson will actually retire in 2022.
According to Ballotpedia, Johnson attended the University of Minnesota and started a plastic sheeting business before he was first elected to the Senate in 2010 and won reelection in 2016.
His campaign was full of “an overall sense of discontent at Washington” when he first ran in 2010, according to The New York Times.
Though he never officially joined, Johnson’s ideals align closely with those of the Tea Party movement, a socially conservative political movement founded on limited government and free-market economics.
Political Science Professor David Canon said Johnson has tarnished his legacy over the past two years through sowing doubt in the science behind COVID-19, discounting the legitimacy of the insurrection at the Capitol and buying into conspiracy theories surrounding the Biden family’s involvement in Ukrainian businesses.
“He definitely is giving a lot of airtime to some of these pretty out-there conspiracy theories and not sticking to some of the traditional conservative principles that he had at the start of his career,” Canon said.
In a March 12 interview with “The Joe Pags Show,” Johnson espoused views widely condemned as racist regarding the January insurrection at the nation’s capital. Johnson claimed he was not intimidated by rioters, but said he might have been had they belonged to the activist group Black Lives Matter.
“Had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned,” Johnson said in the interview.
According to The Washington Post, his response prompted outrage from both Democrats and Republicans.
Most Republicans kept quiet about Johnson’s comments, however, and Johnson did not offer an apology, according to The Washington Post.
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Johnson and his Republican colleagues in Washington repeatedly voiced concerns regarding President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package.
According to Young Progressives at UW-Madison President Jack Connors, Johnson’s legacy will be one of greed.
“I think that people will remember how eager he was to pass a trillion-dollar tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and how fervently he opposed the American Rescue Plan,” Connors said.
According to The Washington Post, it is not uncommon for Republicans to oppose stimulus packages — not one House Republican and only three moderate GOP senators voted for the $787 billion stimulus package during the Great Recession.
Johnson believed the almost $2-trillion stimulus was unnecessary, as he expects the U.S. economy to quickly rebound and sees the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Canon said Johnson may be correct, but he believes the federal government should put forward a robust relief plan in the event that he is not correct.
“Biden said he would rather overshoot on the high end than the low end,” Canon said. “Get the economy going quicker [rather] than not spending enough and have us be in a recession for another 12 months. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. To err on the side of spending too much rather than not enough is probably smart at this point.”
Biden’s package provides direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, increases the Child Tax Credit, helps Americans stay in their homes and provides extended unemployment benefits.
According to The New York Times, Johnson delayed the proceedings on the passing of the bill by demanding that the legislative clerks recite the 628-page plan word for word.
Canon said Johnson is in the minority when it comes to his stance on the COVID-19 stimulus.
“It’s a very popular bill overall and is supported by about 70% of the American people, which is really high,” Canon said. “You don’t get many policies that are supported by 70% of the public. Almost half of Republicans favor the bill as well. So, Johnson’s taking a very unpopular position.”
According to WTMJ, Johnson also made his allegiance to former President Donald Trump clear, which angered both anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats.
Canon said he does not see Johnson making a break from Trump anytime soon.
“Johnson was full-throated in his defense of Trump and gave some credence to these crazy conspiracy theories about the insurrection,” Canon said. “So, clearly Johnson’s evolution over the last couple of years has been influenced by Trump.”
Johnson, however, did vote to validate the 2020 election results, an out-of-character decision as Johnson is one of the “most reliable Republican votes” in the Senate, according to Ballotpedia.
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Though leaving office is “probably his preference now,” it is unclear whether or not Johnson will run for reelection in 2022.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry have already announced campaigns to run against Johnson, according to Politico.
According to Connors, Johnson played an instrumental role in creating Wisconsin’s polarized political climate.
“I think that Johnson will be remembered for playing a crucial role in the division that has plagued our state since the election of Scott Walker,” Connors said. “His policy priorities have always been attacks on working people thinly veiled by bigotry and hatred.”