Sitting in his cramped office late last month, Tim Ramthun said he’d started to hear something intriguing from his colleagues in the Wisconsin state legislature. A hard-line Republican lawmaker, Ramthun is leading the effort to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election and “reclaim” its 10 electors. He’s friendly with MyPillow CEO and election-fraud activist Mike Lindell; Donald Trump praised Ramthun for his work and offered to endorse him. Ramthun told me his push to investigate supposed election fraud had turned him into something of a Republican hero.
“I’m being told that I’m revered everywhere in the state,” Ramthun told me in mid-January. The statement had a Trumpian ring to it, echoing the former president’s trademark “many people are saying” rhetorical device. Ramthun went on, “It really upsets my colleagues because they’re being put in a place now, because of their lack of engagement and their indifference in the problem, their constituents are saying, ‘Hey, how come you can’t be more like Ramthun?’ ”
These newfound supporters of his, Ramthun told me, now wanted him to run for governor. When I asked if he was contemplating doing so, he responded in an instant: “Yes.”
Ramthun has now made it official: He filed paperwork with the state’s election commission to compete in Wisconsin’s 2022 gubernatorial election. (He did not respond to a text message seeking comment about his new campaign.)
Ramthun appears ready to build his gubernatorial bid around the Big Lie and allegations of rampant criminal activity in elections. On Wednesday evening, his gubernatorial campaign website briefly went live before it was taken down a few hours later. According to an archived version of the site, Ramthun described himself as “a servant of, by, and for the people who believes in truth, transparency, and integrity.” The site also vowed that Ramthun would call for “an independent full forensic physical cyber audit for the November 2022 election, beginning with my race regardless of its outcome.”
According to experts in election administration, there is no such thing as “an independent full forensic physical cyber audit.” Ramthun could be referring to a manual recount of every paper ballot cast in the election; he could also mean a review of the voting-machine equipment used to count and process those paper ballots. He could mean the combination of these measures.
Such safeguards already exist in Wisconsin. By law, a candidate may request a statewide paper-ballot recount after an election. “There is no greater forensic audit than a statewide paper-ballot recount,” David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, recently told Rolling Stone. In 2020, the Trump campaign did not ask for a statewide recount, instead requesting a recount in Wisconsin’s two largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane. Those recounts confirmed Trump’s defeat. The state’s post-election canvass, a months-long review by the Legislative Audit Bureau, and an exhaustive review by the Associated Press found no evidence of widespread fraud that could change the result of the election.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission also conducts a post-election voting equipment audit. The audit tests a representative sampling of the voting-machine equipment used across the state to ensure that the voting machine totals match the original paper ballots filled out by voters. Meagan Wolfe, the commission’s nonpartisan administrator, told Rolling Stone in a recent interview that the post-2020 voting-equipment audit found no discrepancies.
Ramthun joins a growing cast of conservative candidates nationwide who have made baseless claims central to their campaigns. Kari Lake, a gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, has amplified former president Trump’s election-fraud rhetoric. At least 21 candidates for secretary of state have spread rumors or lies about fraud in the 2020 election, according to the nonprofit group States United Action.
In Wisconsin, Ramthun’s entry adds a twist to an already tense GOP primary. Leading contenders include Rebecca Kleefisch, the former lieutenant governor when Scott Walker ran the state, and Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine and conservative hard-liner who enjoys the backing of Wisconsin billionaire Dick Uihlein. Founder of the Uline shipping and packing supply company, Uihlein is a longtime conservative mega-donor who has funded other candidates and causes amplifying the so-called “big lie” of widespread election fraud in 2020. (In an interesting twist, Dick Uihlein’s wife, Liz, has donated to a super PAC trying to elect Kleefisch.)
In an hour-and-a-half long interview with Rolling Stone last month, Ramthun said he had the support of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leader of the election-fraud movement. Lindell recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he endorsed Ramthun’s run for governor and planned to attend Ramthun’s official announcement event on Saturday. “He’s going to win — 100%,” Lindell told the Journal Sentinel. “It’s not even going to be close.” (Lindell, it’s worth noting, is being sued for defamation by two voting machine companies over statements he made related to election fraud in 2020, which he’s called “the biggest crime in history against our country.”)
As Rolling Stone first reported, Ramthun also said former president Trump had offered to endorse him in a future campaign. Trump has yet to comment on Ramthun’s gubernatorial bid. (A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.)
While Ramthun could win the support of conservative activists on the national level, he’s unlikely to get much help from his fellow Wisconsin Republicans. He is an outspoken critic of state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, one of the most powerful Republicans in the state. In an hour-and-a-half long interview with Rolling Stone, Ramthun repeatedly criticized Vos for standing in the way of addressing the supposed problem of election fraud.
“I have to basically say that the origin of obstruction in our state is the speaker of the assembly,” Ramthun said. “Because the inaction is clear. His indifference toward trying to resolve this problem to not only save our elections process in our state but in our country is clear.” (A spokeswoman for Vos did not respond to a request for comment.)
Ramthun said his research had led him to believe that the problem of rampant election fraud stretched back much farther than the 2020 election. In Facebook videos and a series of press releases, he said he was seeking to tell the public writ large about how deep the fraud went. “What I was trying to do on behalf of our nation was to say, ‘This election process is broken,'” he said. “It’s been broken now for 20-plus years. There’s evidence that shows the types of issues we’re uncovering now go back to 1996.”
He didn’t elaborate on what that alleged evidence showed. Instead, he said he had tried to make the case to his colleagues in both parties about the need to act. As he put it, “I started thinking to myself, ‘OK, I need to lead them to water. And I need to make them drink.’ “
He went on, “Then I said something rather crass. I don’t want to say it publicly.” Ramthun lowered his voice to a whisper. “But then I need to wipe their ass.”
His lobbying went nowhere, he said. Every single member of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, Democrat and Republican, from the junior-most member to the leadership, had failed to respond when presented with what Ramthun saw as proof of election wrongdoing. “These guys are off in left field, (they) haven’t done anything,” he said. “All of them…I mean everybody.”
“I’m in a place now,” he said, “where I don’t have much choice.”