Before launching his run for governor, Michels, co-owner of an infrastructure construction company, met with the former president.
"He invited my wife and I down to Mar-a-Lago. It was supposed to be a 20-minute meeting, it lasted well over an hour. We, of course, talked about the governor’s race. We talked about politics, but we spent a lot of time talking about building things," Michels said. "We hit it off very well. He’s an outsider, I’m an outsider. He’s a businessman, I’m a businessman."
"The questions he asked were incredible. He was like, 'How does a tunnel boring machine work?'"
On Thursday, Michels said his daughter handed him the phone: "Dad, I think the president's calling." Michels said it was a three to four-minute call, in which Trump revealed his endorsement.
"I didn’t know it was coming. It was as a surprise last night, when we got the call. We were hopeful," Michels told FOX6 in his first television interview after the endorsement. "He said, ‘From the first moment I met you, I thought you were the guy who could win this.’"
Political watchers say the endorsement could help Michels.
"This is a huge turning point in the campaign, because we know that Republican voters are quite strongly influenced by Donald Trump, still," said Anthony Chergosky, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor. "This endorsement is going to have a major effect, I think, on the campaign for governor. I think it does make Tim Michels the frontrunner."
Ballotpedia found, in 2022 primaries, Trump endorsed 95 primary winners and seven losers – a 93% success rate. In a recent primary for Georgia governor, Trump-endorsed candidate David Purdue lost in a landslide. However, in the Ohio Senate primary, Trump's pick J.D. Vance won.
In 2020, Ballotpedia said Trump's winning record in regularly-scheduled races was 77% and in 2018 it was 58%. Sometimes, those numbers are inflated because candidates did not have competitors.
Tim Michels speaks at the 2022 Wisconsin Republican Convention
"I think a Trump endorsement matters when a candidate can take advantage of that endorsement, and Tim Michels is exactly the kind of candidate who can take advantage of a Trump endorsement because he is pouring so much of his own considerable wealth into the campaign," Chergosky said.
A recent Marquette University Law School Poll found roughly half of U.S. Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who Trump endorsed. Forty percent said it would not impact their vote, and 11% said they would be less likely to vote for a Trump-endorsed candidate.
"The Donald Trump endorsement is not enough on its own to determine the winner of Republican primary, but it makes a big difference," added Chergosky. "When you do the back-of-the-envelope math here, it’s only a small percentage of the Wisconsin population that might be influenced by this endorsement; of course, it also takes a small percentage of the Wisconsin population to decide a primary election."
Rebecca Kleefisch speaks at the 2022 Wisconsin Republican Convention
Michels, along with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and State Rep. Tim Ramthun, sought Trump's endorsement.
"All of the republican candidates coveted this endorsement," said Michels.
FOX6 News asked Michels if he was worried about Republicans battling between themselves, thus hurting each other and their chances of beating Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
"That’s not the way that I operate," he said. "I think Becky, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Ramthun, they’re all fine people, but we’re just going to focus on what we do."
Michels said he won't change his campaign. FOX6 News wanted to know if he agreed with the former president on the past election, which recounts, random audits and lawsuits have confirmed Joe Biden won.
FOX6's Jason Calvi asked: "Some of these issues maybe the [former president Trump] may have brought up with you. The election. He believes the election was stolen, do you believe that this election was stolen?"
"A lot of people have questions about the election integrity in 2020, as do I," Michels responded. "I am a guy who looks through the windshield not the rearview mirror. When I’m sworn in on inauguration day, it’s one of the very first things I do is work towards election integrity."
Gov. Tony Evers
At the Wisconsin Republican Convention, delegates voted not to endorse a candidate. While nearly 55% backed Kleefisch, it wasn't enough to get the 60% needed for an endorsement. About 3% backed Michels at the convention.
It is not the endorsement of the party or the former president who decides who wins. Republican primary voters will decide in the Aug. 9 primary. The winner will face Evers in November.
National pollster Public Policy Polling polled likely Republican primary voters in May, finding Michels and Kleefisch nearly tied:
- Tim Michels, 27%
- Rebecca Kleefisch, 26%
- Kevin Nicholson, 9%
- Tim Ramthun, 6%
- Other, 3%
- Undecided. 29%
- Milwaukee Works commissioned Public Policy Polling for this poll of 675 GOP primary voters with a margin of error of 3.8%
Trump endorsement and official statements
Trump endorsement of Michels
Tim Michels is a very successful businessman running for Governor of the Great State of Wisconsin.
During my Administration, Tim served on my infrastructure task force, and helped us plan and start building the Keystone XL Pipeline before Joe Biden launched his assault on American Energy production.
The current Governor, Tony Evers, has been an abject failure for the people of Wisconsin, from his abysmal handling of the China Virus, where his lockdowns were unprecedented, to rampant crime across the State.
Wisconsin needs a Governor who will Stop Inflation, Uphold the Rule of Law, strengthen our Borders (we had the strongest borders in history just two years ago, now we have the weakest!) and End the well-documented Fraud in our Elections. Tim Michels is the best candidate to deliver meaningful solutions to these problems, and he will produce jobs like no one else can even imagine. Tim is an America First Conservative who Supports our Second Amendment, Honors our Brave Law Enforcement and First Responders, and Stands Strongly against the Woke Mob trying to destroy our Country.
Tim Michels has my Complete and Total Endorsement. If Wisconsin has the wisdom to make Tim their next governor, it will have unprecedented success!
"I appreciate President Trump’s endorsement and vote of confidence.This is a tremendous boost to our efforts and a continuation of our astounding surge since I entered the race. Clearly we were all better off when we had firm leadership in the Oval Office. Long gone are the days of $2 a gallon gas, safer communities, and a secure border. I am working every day to defeat Tony Evers and get Wisconsin back on the right track. There are a lot of people across Wisconsin who crave strong leadership. They are hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying Wisconsinites who deserve better. Our campaign will reach them, motivate them, and inspire them to vote."
"If I know one thing about President Trump, it's that he likes winners, and I'm the only person in this race who has won statewide – not once, but four times.
"Our campaign will win this primary with our hardworking team of activists, volunteers and grassroots efforts. Then we will beat Tony Evers. And we will help Wisconsin families and workers win by securing our elections, making gas and groceries affordable again, restoring law and order, and putting parents back in charge of our schools."
"Since the day we launched our campaign, I've been the conservative outsider in this race. That was true then, and that's true today. President Trump has been effective at identifying many of our nation's problems but the race to replace Tony Evers as governor isn't going to be won by endorsements; it will be decided by thousands of hard-working Wisconsinites on election day. If you care about Wisconsin, and you are willing to fight to get our state back on track with common sense and a warrior spirit, I look forward to earning your vote and to serving as your governor."
"The will of the voters will see Wisconsin to victory, thats if we count the votes. I am resolute in that fight. You know me. I’m Tim. Not just any Tim though, I’m #TimTime Tim. Join us and we will win a Wisconsin future our children so abjectly deserve."
Ben Wikler, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair
"Donald Trump’s endorsement in the Wisconsin GOP primary only deepens the alarming division and extremism of the Wisconsin Republican Party. Tim Michels now joins David Perdue, Doug Mastriano, and Herschel Walker in the dubious club of ultra-MAGA candidates who’ve passed Trump’s radical litmus test despite their profound flaws as candidates. Tim Michels has been now given the green light to hit the accelerator on the campaign he was already running — one that embraces election conspiracy theories and divisive policies like banning abortions without exceptions, instituting a ban on same-sex marriage, and defunding public education.
"The GOP is now more divided than ever — Wisconsinites can expect the primary fight to only get worse. Trump’s divisive brand of politics paired with Michels’ extremist and out of touch views is a recipe for disaster. The irony is that Michels claimed he’s ‘tired of Republicans fighting in public’ – but sought the endorsement of America’s biggest bully anyway.
"No matter which of these radical candidates comes out of this primary, Trump endorsement or not, the GOP nominee will be too extreme for Wisconsin. Wisconsinites don’t want more infighting and ultra-partisan radicalism, they want a leader who embraces common sense and does the right thing for our state."
Gov. Tony Evers' campaign
"Tim Michels asked for Donald Trump's permission to run in the first place, so this endorsement isn't surprising. Every candidate in the Republican primary will continue to support radical policies, like banning access to abortion, supporting Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and attacking public education. Gov. Evers is focused on doing the right thing for our state and bringing people together to solve real problems, not caving to partisan radicals like Tim Michels, Rebecca Kleefisch, and the other candidates for governor."