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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., made an explosive charge, then backtracked. (Todd Ponath photo) U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., made an explosive charge, then backtracked. (Todd Ponath photo)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., made an explosive charge, then backtracked. (Todd Ponath photo)

By Vanessa Swales January 14, 2022

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson flips position on seeking a third term

If Your Time is short

  • In 2016, Johnson said he would not run for a third term. 

  • Come 2022, the Republican senator announced he will run again.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, has long been considered the GOP’s best chance to hold onto the seat in 2022. Democrats, meanwhile, have made the seat a top target.

Whichever side wins, the race will play a key role in control of a chamber now divided 50-50.

But there is one unexpected candidate – Johnson himself.

In 2016, when Johnson won a second term, he told voters he would not seek a third term.

But on Jan. 9, 2022, there was Johnson announcing he would run again.

Yes, that means it’s time for the Flip-O-Meter and our requisite reminder: It measures whether a person has been consistent on an issue, not whether any change makes for good (or bad) politics or policy.

On this one, let’s just say sometimes, politicians make our job very easy.

A slow-motion backflip

In October 2016, in the run-up to the election, Johnson first mentioned he planned not to run for a third term in an interview with the Baraboo News Republic.

At the time, he was facing former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat who had served 18 years in the Senate, in what was a rematch of the 2010 election – and this time Johnson was trailing in the polls.

Ultimately, as former President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Wisconsin, Johnson won with 50.2% of the vote to Feingold’s 46.8%.

A little more than two years after his win, in November 2018, Democrats took over the U.S. House and Republicans lost every statewide race. Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he still did not plan to run again, and wanted to focus on his work in the Senate

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But he had started to waver.

"That's always been my game plan," he said of not seeking a third term. "I will say I never expected this to happen, though. The reality has changed from what I thought it would be in 2022."

In early March 2021, following the state swinging blue in the 2020 presidential election, Johnson noted another race was not out of the realm of possibility.

During a media call, Johnson said that it was "probably my preference now" not to seek re-election, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. But he said he had never anticipated Democrats would have full control of Congress and there would be a Democratic president in the White House.

In the months since, there has been similar hemming and hawing.

Finally, he announced his re-election bid in a Jan. 9, 2022 opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, citing the "the Democrats' complete takeover of government and the disastrous policies they have inflicted on America and the world, to say nothing of those they threaten to enact in the future."

He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it was not an easy decision.

"It is not a decision I have made lightly," he said. "Having already experienced a growing level of vitriol and false attacks, I certainly don’t expect better treatment in the future."

Our ruling

In 2016, Johnson was unequivocal: That term, his second, would be his last.

Now, not so much.

He’s offered his reason for changing his mind, and many cheer him for doing so. Our role is to measure if he was consistent on the issue, and he was not. Far from it.

This is what we call a Full Flop.


Our Sources

The Wall Street Journal, Why I’m Seeking a Third Senate Term, Jan 9, 2022.


Ron Johnson, tweet, Jan 9, 2022. 


The Baraboo News Republic, Sen. Ron Johnson says he won't seek 3rd term if reelected in November, Oct 16, 2016.


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Where is Wisconsin GOP headed after midterm losses? Ron Johnson enlists Reince Priebus to help party rebound, Nov. 29, 2018. 


The Wisconsin State Journal, Ron Johnson: No decision on 2022 run, but leaving office is 'probably my preference now,' March 6, 2021.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson announces run for re-election, breaking pledge to serve only two terms, Jan. 9, 2022.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Vanessa Swales

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson flips position on seeking a third term

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