Evers, Kleefisch, Ramthun, Nicholson, and Michels
The four Republicans who hope to emerge from the August 9 primary to challenge Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (left) are, clockwise from top, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, and businessmen Kevin Nicholson and Tim Michels.

Hitting a bunch of the squares on a right-wing Bingo card doesn’t qualify someone to run Wisconsin’s executive branch.

A man whose company has received more than $1 billion from Wisconsin taxpayers and served on the board of directors of the state’s most notorious business lobby would like you to know that he’s self-made and doesn’t care about special interests. So we’re already starting with enough irony to drop an elephant.

Wisconsin businessman Tim Michels launched his campaign for governor on Monday, becoming the fourth Republican candidate in what’s quickly becoming a race to the right.

Michels, 59, who along with his brothers runs his family business Michels Corp., could inject millions of his own wealth into the race—starting with a statewide ad campaign that began running Monday. 

Michels’ first TV commercial, which started running Monday, is cringe worthy enough that it warrants our first commentary of the political ad tsunami that’s already heading to your television, computer, and phone screens. It proudly waves the banner of “cranky rich white guy” telling you to get off his lawn. 

“Everything we love about Wisconsin is under attack,” he begins from inside a Michels Corp. facility—a company that has received state contracts for at least 73 projects since 2014, totaling a little more than $1 billion. After receiving those taxpayer dollars, Michels and his employees donated at least $143,000 to Scott Walker while he was governor. 

After promoting his service in the US Army (service for which we thank him), Michels tells us “the media” would have you believe that God, family, and country “doesn’t matter anymore.” This is the part where you would insert the GIF of Marcia Brady saying, “Sure, Jan.”

In school, he says, he took a pledge and in the Army, he took an oath. Today, he smirks, “people take a knee,” dismissing the reasons why Americans are fed up with excessive police violence and fed up with being dismissed by people like Michels.

“When I was 9 years old, my dad handed me a shovel and put me to work,” he continues. We’re sure that in the extended version of this ad we’ll hear how he was forced to walk to work in summer snowstorms without shoes.

“Nowadays, we get paid to sit on the couch.” Perhaps he missed last week’s headline that under President Joe Biden and Gov. Tony Evers, unemployment has never been lower. Americans weathered record-high joblessness thanks to pandemic aid that enabled them to consider changing jobs that didn’t require walking to work in a snowstorm without shoes.

“Back then,” he continues, “if you called somebody lazy, it was a huge insult. But today, you get a pronoun wrong and the liberals want your head.”

Pardon us if we’re typing this more slowly—we’ve been plunged neck-deep into privilege with that kind of crack. Such a life to have never had faced levels of hatred, discrimination, even banishment for being who you are.

Speaking of privilege, Michels then tells us the “radical left is destroying everything we love about America.” (Yes, there’s the obligatory photo of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi because, of course there is.)

“I’m not some career politician,” says the millionaire who ran for US Senate in 2004, losing to then-Sen. Russ Feingold by campaigning against same-sex marriage and against any abortion rights–even in cases of rape and incest. While Michels has not been on the ballot for nearly two decades, his position as a director for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce(WMC)—virtually the state’s shadow Republican Party—is reminder enough that he’s hardly disconnected from politics.

Titling himself on-screen as “Conservative. Businessman. Patriot,” Michels also claims he will “turn Madison upside-down and protect the freedoms that make Wisconsin great.”

Pssst, Tim, if “Madison” is your code for state government, we need to let you know that Republicans have controlled the Legislature for more than a decade. The call is coming from inside the house! Freedoms are, in fact, being undermined and they involve the GOP assaults on local control that are hampering local economies, education, and our natural resources. Taking just one example, perhaps you could promise that as governor you would tell your friends at WMC to stop undermining our freedom to have clean water and get them to end their court assaults on efforts to find and clean up sites contaminated by industrial chemicals known as PFAS.

There is no denying Michels’ on-camera presence, that of a wealthy executive who believes taking over his parents’ company gives him the bonafides to run state government like a business—the single biggest fallacy of our times. But let us be clear—while kicking off a campaign by filling lots of squares on a right-wing Bingo card may help a wealthy candidate win a primary, it won’t heal nearly a generation of division and fiscal mismanagement that symbolizes the Walker-Kleefisch legacy. Our tone today is admittedly harsh, but that’s the right way to evaluate an ad like this. Lots of traditional media sites will fact-check some data points; we’re going to break down the coded language as well.

There will be ample time to review the messages of former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, and another wealthy businessman, Kevin Nicholson. Michels leads off the coverage simply for having an ad that sets the bar high in the number of eye rolls it induces. No matter how many times a politician claims a lofty perch in terms of American values, they will never truly have the high ground if their values embrace attacks on education, diversity, our environment, and workers seeking a better path to even a fraction of the wealth Michels is about to spend to run for governor.