2022 midterms

Ron Johnson Gets Booed for Smearing Mandela Barnes at Debate

Photo: Morry Gash/AP/Shutterstock

No one has likely mistaken Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson for a man of grace and eloquence. I routinely refer to the plain-spoken ideologue as “hammerheaded” and find that to be a technically proficient description. But he may have gone too far in boorishness in his second and final debate with his Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, at Marquette University. One of the moderators noted at the end of the debate that many voters had complained to him about the nastiness and negativity of partisan politics, so he asked the two candidates to say something they found “admirable” about each other. As The Hill reported, they responded very differently:

Barnes answered the question first, saying that “the senator has proven to be a family man, and I think that’s admirable. You know, that’s absolutely to be respected. He speaks about his family. [He’s] done a lot to provide for them. I absolutely respect that.”

The senator also commended the lieutenant governor’s family and upbringing but later used the question to attack his opponent.

“I mean, likewise, I appreciate the fact that Lt. Gov. Barnes had loving parents, a school teacher, father who worked third shift. So he had a good upbringing,” Johnson said. 

“I guess what puzzles me about that is with that upbringing, why has he turned against America?” he asked before receiving boos from the audience.

The thing to understand is that this dickish remark by RonJon appears not to have been a spontaneous expression of pique but rather a planned talking point. Here’s what he said earlier this week in a stump speech, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio:

At a gathering of a couple hundred Republicans at the Racine County Fairgrounds pavilion last month, Johnson delivered what sounded — momentarily — like a typical swing state speech. He called for unity. And he said Republicans want to “heal” the nation.

“Aren’t you getting tired of the division and the anger?” Johnson asked.

But Johnson immediately pivoted. 

He accused Democrats of purposely driving up the cost of gas “to force you into an electric vehicle.” Johnson blamed Democrats for inflation, saying it amounted to “stealing” people’s savings. And he said progressives, like Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, wanted to fundamentally change America for the wrong reasons.

“They don’t particularly like this country,” Johnson said. “They just don’t.”

That is the senator’s idea of a unity pitch in a close and important contest. But, hey, at least he’s a “family man.”

Ron Johnson Gets Booed for Smearing Mandela Barnes at Debate