GREEN BAY -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday formally endorsed Paul Ryan at a campaign rally in Green Bay, saying he and the House speaker share the goal of making “America great again.”
“We may disagree on a couple of things, but mostly we agree and we’re going to get it done,” Trump said. “He’s a good man.”
Trump, making his first stop in Wisconsin since winning the GOP nomination, also endorsed U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., saying he will need a Republican majority in the House and Senate to accomplish his policy goals.
The endorsements came after a tumultuous week for Trump in which he drew flak from fellow Republicans after he said in an interview he was "not quite there yet" on endorsing Ryan in his primary race, which is Tuesday, and did not give his support to Ayotte and McCain. Top Wisconsin Republicans -- including Ryan, Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson -- all skipped Friday’s rally, citing other commitments.
In the interview with the Washington Post, Trump also said Ryan's primary opponent, Paul Nehlen, is running a "very good campaign" and is a "big fan" of the GOP nominee.
Nonetheless, Trump predicted Friday he will have disagreements with Ryan, but “we will disagree as friends and never stop working together.”
Trump’s initial refusal to endorse Ryan was the latest flare-up in the relationship between the GOP’s presidential nominee and the party’s highest elected official.
Ryan in late spring said he wanted to hear more from the businessman before backing his campaign. Though he eventually endorsed the businessman, Ryan has frequently criticized Trump comments that some have found offensive. Ahead of Friday’s rally, Ryan, R-Janesville, warned his endorsement of Trump was “not a blank check.”
A Ryan aide said of Trump's endorsement, "He appreciates the gesture and is going to continue to focus on earning the endorsement of the voters in southern Wisconsin."
Nehlen, who attended the rally, said Trump's endorsement of his 1st CD opponent was motivated by a desire for party unity. He encouraged his supporters to back Trump in the general election.
“He was in no way endorsing Paul Ryan’s policies of shipping our jobs overseas, having our borders wide open, and bringing a constant stream of cheap labor in here to replace Americans in their own jobs,” said Nehlen, who is trailed Ryan 80 percent to 14 percent in a poll released Friday.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning, meanwhile, contrasted the GOP no-shows at the Green Bay rally with her party’s elected officials that attended a Milwaukee event earlier in the day with vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine.
“The difference couldn't be more clear -- Republicans refuse to admit they can't bear the thought of Donald Trump leading their party; Democrats are ecstatic to have Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine fighting for policies that will allow everyone to get ahead, not just those at the very top,” she said.
During Kaine's Milwaukee rally, he praised recent court decisions striking down several voting laws, including pieces of Wisconsin's voter ID requirement. But when Trump mentioned them in Green Bay, the crowd booed.
Trump said Wisconsin voters have to be very vigilant about voter fraud, and encouraged the audience to mobilize “everybody you know” to the polls in November.
And Trump briefly acknowledged his loss to Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin primary last April, saying he expected to win, but felt he learned from the defeat.
“I had a really great time when I was in Wisconsin; I didn’t quite eek it out,” Trump said. “You built me up and you taught me about politics.”
State Sen. Frank Lasee, a candidate in the 8th CD, was one of the few state elected officials who attended the rally; his main opponent in Tuesday's primary, Mike Gallagher, was attending an event in Shawano County Friday night. Lasee said he was surprised Trump endorsed Ryan and expressed disappointment at the absence of many of the state’s high-profile political figures. While Lasee said his opinions differ from Trump’s on some issues, the De Pere Republican encouraged members of his party to lend their support.
“The people spoke, and he is our nominee,” Lasee said. “We don’t have to own everything he says that might be controversial or comment on it.”
-- By Samantha Nash