Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced Sunday that he will run for reelection, after months of speculation around his possible retirement.
“It is not a decision I have made lightly,” Johnson said in his statement.
“When re-election is not your primary motivation, those are easy promises to keep — and I have faithfully done so. That attitude is relatively unique in Washington, and it may be one reason why many appreciate having me involved in the national debate,” he said.
Johnson, who was an executive at a family plastics company before getting into politics in 2010, rode into the Senate on the tea party wave and defeated sitting Democrat Russ Feingold. He beat Feingold once again in 2016, when Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in the presidential election. He said his 2016 run would be his last.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Sunday morning, Johnson said he decided to renege on that statement because he feels “America is in peril.”
“Countless people have encouraged me to run, saying they rely on me to be their voice, to speak plain and obvious truths other elected leaders shirk from expressing ― truths the elite in government, mainstream media and Big Tech don’t want you to hear,” Johnson wrote.
He has long been among the more conservative members of the Senate: He has said he doesn’t believe in climate change or global warming, has strict anti-immigration views and has long fought to dismantle Obamacare.
Over the last five years, he has also fully adopted Trump’s Republican Party.
When Trump downplayed COVID-19, Johnson questioned the seriousness of the disease as well. He spread conspiracy theories about coronavirus vaccines and refused to get one himself, and also called for more research into debunked treatments like hydroxychloroquine.
The senator also refused to accept the 2020 election results, and continues to call on Wisconsin Republicans to take over the elections system. He has defended Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, saying they were people who “love this country” and that he would have been much more scared had they been Black Lives Matter protesters. He said he “didn’t feel threatened” by the deadly riot.
In one New York Times article, some Wisconsin Republicans called him a modern-day Joe McCarthy, the late Republican senator from Wisconsin who staged the national witch hunt for communists in the 1950s — dubbed “McCarthyism” — that ultimately destroyed the livelihood of many. McCarthy, who had an acrimonious relationship with many of his Senate colleagues, was ultimately censured. Johnson dismissed the comparisons in an interview with The New York Times.
“Having already experienced a growing level of vitriol and false attacks, I certainly don’t expect better treatment in the future,” Johnson said in his statement announcing his Senate run.
Republicans were holding out hope that Johnson would seek reelection, saving them the trouble of finding another candidate at the start of the election year. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in August that he expected Johnson to run again.
Johnson had also hinted that this would be the case, saying his “preference” would be to retire from the Senate but that he was “panicked for the direction of this country.”
Johnson has become an easy punching bag for Democrats in Wisconsin, who are trying not only to flip his seat but also keep control of the state’s governorship. Democrats have a large field of candidates running to be their nominee, and the pack is currently led by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski.
“Whether he was manipulating the GOP tax scam bill to enrich himself and his biggest political donors, trying to drive up health care costs and rip away protections for pre-existing conditions, or failing to crack down on China’s illicit economic practices and companies that outsource our jobs, Johnson has proven over and over again he’s only ever focused on serving himself,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler said in a statement.
Democrats across the nation face a tough election year in 2022. But they hope Johnson has the same effect on Wisconsin’s more suburban Republicans as Trump did in 2020, when Joe Biden narrowly won the state.