• WisPolitics

Thursday, May 5, 2016

 9:20 AM 

Wisconsin Republicans divided over support for Trump

Wisconsin Republican leaders are divided on whether they will support Donald Trump as the GOP nominee after Trump's rivals ended their bids following the Indiana primary.

Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson say they'll support the GOP nominee. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald wants Wisconsin Republicans to rally around Trump. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he'll listen to the businessman's "ideas and see if he can earn my support and the support of other conservatives." And Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says he's pulling out as an alternate at-large delegate with Trump now on the verge of clinching the nomination.

Walker said Wednesday Trump "clearly" would be a better president than Hillary Clinton and he will support the GOP nominee in this fall's election.

When Walker dropped his own bid for the presidency in September, he called on other GOP candidates to do the same so voters could focus on a smaller pool of candidates "who can offer a positive conservative alternative" to Trump.

But Walker said Trump would be superior to Clinton on Supreme Court nominations, taxes, regulation and the size of government.

"It's very clear, even more so throughout this primary process, that Hillary Clinton's moved radically to the left and that she would make it very difficult for the nation's economy to improve," Walker told reporters in West Allis.

Walker said it wouldn't be hard for him to support Trump after the businessman attacked the guv over his record in Wisconsin and said at a Janesville rally he "sent him packing like a little boy" in the nomination contest.

"The bottom line is: He said some of that stuff before the Wisconsin primary, and the people who know best didn't buy into that," Walker said. "It's one where the voters understand what we've done here and the successes that we've had, and that's why we were elected three times in four years."

Johnson has repeatedly said he would support the eventual nominee and at one point made a crack about "the Ronald [and] the Donald" when asked if he would campaign with Trump.

Still, Johnson also has often said when asked about the presidential race that he was praying the GOP nominee "is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas and courage."

Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger said nothing has changed the senator's view.

"As Ron has repeatedly said for months, he intends to support the Republican nominee, but he's focused on the concerns of Wisconsinites -- not national political winds," Reisinger said.

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, argued Trump could be a boost to GOP Senate candidates this fall.

"I like a populist candidate in the parts of the state where we need to do well," Fitzgerald said. "Is Trump going to do well in Dane County? Absolutely not. But is he going to do well in the Fox River valley? Absolutely."

Asked if Trump's past comments, particularly about women, would come back to bite Republicans this fall, Fitzgerald instead focused on Hillary Clinton's negatives. He also dismissed polling -- such as one out Wednesday -- that shows her with a double-digit lead nationally.

"He's not running against nobody. He's running against Hillary Clinton," Fitzgerald said. "Certainly if there's anyone who's got baggage it's the Clintons. Because of this, I think this entire race is kind of reset and the unfavorables of both candidates are high right now. That will change as well as people figure out where they're at."

Vos was an early backer of Marco Rubio before getting behind Cruz ahead of Wisconsin's primary. He noted Trump "wasn't my first choice" and said he would listen to Trump's ideas and decide whether to back him.

"At this time, one thing is certain, Hillary Clinton would be an awful choice for president and a danger to the ideals that most Americans cherish," Vos said.

Steineke, who was an early and vocal opponent of Trump, said he is pulling out as an alternate delegate to the national convention now that Trump is on the verge of winning the GOP nomination.

"Obviously, I've been pretty clear on how I feel about Donald Trump," Steineke said. "I respect the fact that the voters in the Republican primary felt differently. But I think it would be better to turn over that position as an at-large delegate to someone who was excited to go and was looking forward to the prospect of a Trump nomination."

As in other states, Dems upped their efforts to tie GOP candidates to Trump. The liberal Americans United for Change, for example, hit Johnson for his position that the next president should fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The group said Johnson wants Trump -- "a racist, sexist, misogynistic, nativist, isolationist, pathological liar who said he would date his daughter if they weren't related and won't rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East" -- to make that appointment.

The state Dem Party tweeted Fitzgerald "must not be bothered by the racism, xenophobia & sexism Donald Trump spews."

The party also sent out a series of tweets seeking to tie GOP Sens. Sheila Harsdorf, of River Falls; Luther Olsen, of Ripon; and Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, to a comment Fitzgerald made in one media interview that, "We're on the Trump train now."

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