LAKE BOTTOM, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin’s Republican attorney general nominee won’t commit to voting for Donald Trump in 2024 if he runs for president again, putting him at odds with other top Republicans on the ballot in the Battleground State in November. .
Eric Toney, a district attorney seeking to overthrow Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, has a more complicated relationship with Trump than other Republicans running the entire state of Wisconsin. Toney voted for Trump in 2020, even though he privately called him a “dumb Donald,” and unlike some Republicans, Toney said President Joe Biden’s election was legitimate and there was no had no way to undo the results.
Unlike Sen. Ron Johnson and gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, Toney does not have Trump’s endorsement. Johnson has been a close Trump ally for years and Michels appeared at a rally with Trump just before his primary victory in August. Michels backs a Trump 2024 presidential run, while Johnson paused before endorsing a run as he faces a tough re-election against Democratic Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.
But Toney, the Fond du Lac district attorney, dodged the question in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, saying he was focused on his own campaign.
“I’ll see who’s on the ballot and make my decision then,” Toney said. “I am focused on 2022.”
Questions about allegiance to Trump have been a litmus test for Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country this election year, fueled by the former president’s unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was stolen.. Candidates endorsed by Trump have won GOP attorney general primaries in Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Ohio this year.
Toney’s main opponent, Adam Jarchow, criticized him for the “dumb dumb Donald” comments and questioned his conservative credentials. Toney narrowly beat Jarchow.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Anthony Chergosky said Toney barely made it through the primary and his choice to distance himself from Trump was risky.
The GOP has rallied behind Trump since the FBI raided its Mar-A-Lago complex and failing to signal his support could cost Toney money from party donors, Chergosky said. Toney could also create a major rift with Michels and make it harder for Republicans to present a unified front, Chergosky said.
“What Toney is doing is extremely unusual in the larger landscape of Republican politics,” Chergosky said. “He’s really part of a small circle of Republican candidates who are willing to distance themselves from Trump…surely that could have the effect of reducing the Republican base’s enthusiasm for (Toney’s) candidacy.”
Toney’s views on Trump — whatever they are by 2024 — could play a crucial role in Trump’s win in Wisconsin if he runs again.
Trump still argues that widespread voter fraud cost him the state in 2020, even though multiple reviews and court rulings have confirmed Biden defeated him by around 21,000 votes. If Trump were to narrowly lose Wisconsin again in 2024 and raise questions about fraud, it would be up to Toney as attorney general to defend the election results. If he chose to step aside, Trump would have an easier path in court.
Toney took a tougher stance against Trump’s arguments than Michels or Johnson. He told AP that no widespread fraud swayed the 2020 election and that he does not support decertifying Biden’s victory in Wisconsin because it is legally impossible.
“When the subject comes up, I say, ‘No, it’s not legal. It can’t be done,” Toney said. “It is important that we apply the rule of law, not just when we agree with it. There was no widespread voter fraud that would have overturned the election results, but President Trump or anyone else should have been able to file a lawsuit he wanted to look into if there were any problems with how election laws were followed, because that’s how our democracy works.
Although he said there was no widespread fraud in Wisconsin, Toney charged five people with election violations. to register to vote using UPS mailbox addresses. One of them was convicted of a misdemeanor in July. The other cases are pending.
The charging decision drew widespread criticism from Democrats. Kaul said charging voters was a waste of resources. Toney responded that the cases were clear violations of Wisconsin election laws and said Kaul himself said voter fraud should be prosecuted.
“He has zero credibility and he’s a hypocrite on these issues,” Toney said.
Kaul told the AP this month that voter fraud is extremely rare and that Toney’s decision to play the charges shows he is pandering to Republican base conspiracy theories.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed from Madison.