The Republican senator got an earful from angry voters at a town hall on Tuesday night.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) announced last month he would break his term-limits pledge and seek a third term this November. He said days later that his sagging approval ratings — around 35% in recent polls — are entirely the media's fault and claimed, "I'm not a polarizing figure at all."
On Tuesday night, several of his constituents joined his telephone town hall and made it clear that they strongly disagree with those self-assessments.
Johnson was grilled by multiple callers from across Wisconsin about his recent comments and his record.
Susan, a self-described 50-something "disabled veteran," noted the lack of good jobs available in Kenosha and high costs, saying, "I want your answer to why you shipped jobs to South Carolina and not Kenosha, Wisconsin. We need help!"
Johnson, who has been under fire for refusing to try to persuade Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense to locate 1,000 new manufacturing jobs in the state instead of in South Carolina, had argued on Saturday, "It's not like we don't have enough jobs here in Wisconsin. The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers."
Johnson told Susan that "economic development is not universally distributed" and that the best approach is to "have a competitive tax system and a reasonable regulatory environment, and then you get out of the way and allow entrepreneurs." Pressed further, Johnson scolded the caller for not listening to his answers and moved on.
Debra, a former supporter also from Kenosha, called out Johnson, who voted with President Donald Trump 86% of the time and ranked 60th out of 100 for bipartisanship in The Lugar Center/McCourt School's index for the last Congress, for not being bipartisan enough and for his fealty to the former president.
"I did vote for you because you were something different. I have been disappointed with your policies and more specifically in your [siding] with one person over the country," Debra said. "At what point are you going to quit complaining about what has or hasn't happened in your eyes and when are you gonna start reaching across the aisle and start working with your Democratic colleagues to get things done?"
"I'd say you're probably relying too much on reports in the news media that aren't accurate," he responded, noting that he had worked with both parties to pass non-controversial right to try legislation in 2018 and that he had been a leader in promoting dangerous conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I bring the attitude, Let's concentrate on areas of agreement, let's not exploit political divisions," Johnson claimed, making no mention of his repeated false claims about the 2020 election and the January 2021 Capitol insurrection by Trump supporters.
A constituent named Garrick criticized the millionaire Johnson over his recent comments suggesting that providing affordable child care is not "society's responsibility" and pointed out the contradiction between that and Johnson's abortion views.
"You're supposed to be pro-life, or at least you're running on a pro-life platform, but you say it isn't society's responsibility to take care of other people's children. Yet we're giving tax breaks to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations, and I don't know how you're gonna get the pro-choice side to make logical decisions and have the kid if we're not even giving the tools of day care to be able to make that decision," Garrick said.
Johnson pointed to a disputed estimate that a Democratic proposal in the Build Back Better package to pay child care workers a living wage would mean a $13,000 per year cost increase for some families and suggested that by "society" he had only meant a "federal government program." "I was talking about the fact that another federal government program when we're $30 trillion in debt, when all this deficit spending is sparking inflation," he said.
Pressed further, Johnson complained, "It's very unusual that people won't even let me answer the question, so we're gonna cut off Garrick."
Michael, who identified himself as a retired military officer, questioned Johnson's decision to break his promise to only serve 12 years in the Senate, asking, "In the military, respect and trust go a long way. In 2016, you stated you only plan to run for one more term. How can we trust you if you're going against what you stated you wanted to do?"
Johnson, who had co-sponsored a 2011 constitutional amendment proposal to limit all senators to two six-year terms, answered that he had hoped to retire after that period but simply couldn't "walk away" from the nation's problems now.
"It was my very strong preference, and trust me, my wife's very strong preference, to serve out this term and go home," he claimed. "But the country is in a different place today than it was in 2016. ... I just decided, well, I can't turn my back at this moment, our country, I'm in a position where I can, I think, I can help improve things."
"I feel really bad that I've been here now probably 11 years and we've doubled the debt. Obamacare's still in place, and we've doubled the debt," Johnson told a right-wing podcaster last summer. "I don't feel like my time here has been particularly successful."
The callers during Tuesday night's phone town hall seemed to agree with Johnson on that point.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.