Bice: Trump endorsed Tim Michels after ranting about 2019 tweets of Kleefisch and Brian Hagedorn's teens

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, left, and former President Donald Trump, right.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, left, and former President Donald Trump, right.
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This is just how closely former President Donald Trump is following the Wisconsin governor's race.

In a private meeting with construction executive Tim Michels in April, Trump complained about a 2019 tweet by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in which she posted a picture of her daughter with the son of Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn.

The tweet showed the two teenagers dressed up in formal wear and headed to a high school homecoming event. A political ally then retweeted the post, suggesting it was the beginning of a "Hagedorn-Kleefisch political dynasty in Wisconsin."

Hagedorn, who ran as a conservative, has been criticized heavily by Republicans after being a swing vote in high-profile decisions involving pandemic-related restrictions and Trump's efforts to overturn Wisconsin's last presidential election. In response, Trump attacked the Wisconsin jurist on Twitter in late 2020.

"Trump was aware of these tweets" with the photo of Kleefisch and Hagedorn's children, said a source who was in the room during the Michels meeting. "And it bothered him."

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Trump has since endorsed Michels in the state's Republican primary. The winner of the primary will face off against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

Kleefisch replied to a request for comment on Friday by accusing Michels of bringing up the Twitter photo  with Trump. Sources told the Journal Sentinel that this was not the case. Michels was unaware of the tweets before meeting with Trump.

"I’m outraged my opponent would use a photo of my underage daughter for political ammunition in order to score an endorsement," Kleefisch said.

Interestingly, Kleefisch has also begun name-checking Hagedorn when criticizing Michels, a multimillionaire co-owner of Michels Corp. in Brownsville. In recent speeches, she accuses Michels of possibly being "another Hagedorn."

Earlier this month, for instance, Kleefisch made the claim in a radio interview with conservative talk show host Jay Weber on WISN-AM (1130).

"We don’t want to have another Brian Hagedorn situation where we thought we were electing a conservative, but, in fact, we weren’t,” Kleefisch told Weber.

In short, Hagedorn is finding himself in the one place no judge wants to be: At the center of a major political campaign — and not in a good way.

In a statement, Hagedorn defended his record on the bench.

"I ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court as a judicial conservative promising to follow the law wherever it leads," Hagedorn said in an email. "I've been true to my word. I will continue calling it like I see it without fear of criticism and without favoritism toward anyone."

Then Hagedorn went on to say that he didn't like it that his son had become part of the debate in the current political contest.

"My son in the picture is now a U.S. Marine training to defend our freedoms," Hagedorn said. "I'm very proud of him. I would appreciate my children being left out of the Wisconsin governor's race."   

Michels met with Trump in a private, 75-minute meeting at the ex-president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 5 — nearly three weeks before Michels officially jumped into the governor's race.

According to an individual who was in the room in Florida, Trump and Michels talked for some time about construction, a topic of mutual interest for the two builders who like putting their names on things.

But when the subject turned to Wisconsin politics, Trump initially spoke favorably about Kleefisch, calling the former TV news anchor "charming" on several occasions, as he has done elsewhere. She took her own pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago in March.

Trump had also, as is his wont, crafted a nickname for Kleefisch, calling her "48% Becky," the source said. That is apparently a reference to the fact that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Kleefisch got 48.5% of the vote in 2018, narrowly losing to Evers and Mandela Barnes.

A Republican insider said Reince Priebus, Trump's former chief of staff, has used the same nickname for Kleefisch. He did so at a Sept. 23, 2021, fundraiser for congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden in Fox Point. Priebus, who was at Michels' meeting with Trump, declined to comment.

(After this column posted, some Kleefisch supporters responded by calling Michels "44% Timmy" in reference to the percentage of the vote he got in his failed 2004 U.S. Senate race.)

Then the source said Trump expressed his concerns about possible ties between Kleefisch and Hagedorn.

Specifically, he pointed to a tweet that Kleefisch posted on Oct. 5, 2019, of Kleefisch's daughter and Hagedorn's son dressed in formal wear and headed to a homecoming dance together.

"@judgehagedorn Will you look at how these kids clean up!?" Kleefisch tweeted. A political ally then retweeted the post, adding, "I take it this is the beginning of the Hagedorn-Kleefisch political dynasty in Wisconsin."

Weeks earlier, Kleefisch posted another photo of the two teenagers and wrote: "Funny thing. @judgehagedorn‘s kid and my kid are buddies and decided to go to homecoming together. There is no hashtag for this..."

"The president brought it up," the source said, adding that the other people in the room had "no clue" about the tweets.

The source said Trump then went on a "little rant" about Hagedorn, expressing his displeasure with and disdain for the Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

"It's fair to say President Trump does not like Justice Hagedorn," said a second source.

Just look back to December 2020 after Hagedorn joined three liberal justices in refusing to throw out more than 220,000 ballots cast in Milwaukee and Dane counties. Just after the decision was handed down, the Electoral College cemented Democrat Joe Biden's national victory.

Days later, Trump posted three tweets attacking Hagedorn. In the first, Trump claimed he endorsed Hagedorn during his 2019 election — he did not — "when he was getting destroyed in the Polls against a tough Democrat Candidate who had no chance of losing. After my endorsement, Hagedorn easily won!"

Trump continued: "WOW, he just voted against me in a Big Court Decision on voter fraud (of which there was much!), despite many pages of dissent from three highly respected Justices. One thing has nothing to do with another, but we ended up losing 4-3 in a really incorrect ruling!"

You get the idea. At the same time, it should be noted Michels gave $5,000 to Hagedorn in 2018.

Anyway, the Kleefisch tweets weren't the only reference to social media during the Trump meeting.

Trump also criticized GOP candidate Kevin Nicholson, who has since dropped out of the governor's race, because Trump said Nicholson had liked or retweeted a post years ago by ex-conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes that was critical of Trump.

Who knew Trump — or someone close to him — was keeping such close tabs on the social media activity of Wisconsin politicians?

Anyway, the Journal Sentinel couldn't find the post-Trump was referring to. Sykes, now a Never Trumper, said he was also in the dark.

"No idea … but good to know!" Sykes wrote.

Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at  

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Trump endorsed Tim Michels after ranting about Kleefisch's tweets