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Ron Johnson calls media his ‘opponent’ in speech to annual GOP convention

In speech to delegates, Johnson defends his comments on COVID-19 and his amendment to the 2017 GOP tax cuts

Ron Johnson
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.  Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson told Republican activists at the state GOP convention that the media are his opponent in his bid for a third term.

While the charge from Johnson was not new, he delivered it in unequivocal terms Saturday in Middleton, beginning his remarks with a call for unity in America before blaming both Democrats and the press for fueling division.

“I have an opponent,” Johnson said. “Probably the worst opponent anyone could have. I have the media against me.”

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Johnson told Republicans that “integrity is everything to a businessperson,” and that it’s “not fun” to have his integrity attacked in the press.

“Let’s pretend I was a Democrat senator,” Johnson said. “How would the press treat me if I was a Democrat senator?”

Johnson said the media had overlooked his accomplishments, including The Joseph Project, a faith-based initiative in Milwaukee that connects people with jobs.

Johnson also took issue with the way his signature amendment to the GOP tax cuts of 2017 had been portrayed, saying he supported the plan to help businesses across the country that would have otherwise been left out of the landmark tax deal.

Johnson’s amendment extended tax relief to small businesses and other so-called pass-through entities, where profits are paid by business owners on their personal returns. An investigation by Pro Publica found the provision had been a financial boon for some of Johnson’s largest campaign donors.

Johnson himself ran a business, Pacur LLC, that was structured as a pass-through. He recently disclosed in his official statement of economic interest that he sold the business for between $5 million and $20 million in 2020.

Democrats have attacked Johnson for doubling his wealth while in the U.S. Senate. Johnson said he would have earned more money had he not converted all of his stocks to cash.

“There’s nothing wrong with succeeding and living the American dream,” Johnson told delegates Saturday. “I’m proud of that, and yet my Democrat opponents are trying to make that into a negative, and the media’s playing along.”

At a press conference outside the GOP convention hall, Democrats said Johnson himself was to blame for the division.

“I can tell that Sen. Ron Johnson is tired of accountability,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wikler. “Unfortunately, his actions have been so divisive that merely to speak the truth about Ron Johnson’s record has the effect of dividing voters who he’s betrayed.”

Johnson has courted controversy in the runup to his reelection bid, from downplaying the severity of the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. While Johnson has long been a favorite of the GOP base in Wisconsin, a decade of polling suggests his support among other voters has slipped.

An April 2022 survey by Marquette University Law School found a record 46 percent of Wisconsin voters had an unfavorable view of Johnson. In March of 2016, ahead of his last reelection bid, that number was just 31 percent.

Several Democrats are vying to defeat Johnson in 2022, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

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