Trump heads to key swing state of Wisconsin days after alleged Milwaukee diss

By Steve Contorno, CNN

Racine, Wisconsin CNN  — 

Days after reportedly calling Milwaukee “horrible” behind closed doors, former President Donald Trump will rally with his supporters just south of the city in one of the country’s top battleground states.

Trump’s event Tuesday comes less than a month before Republicans gather in Milwaukee for their national convention, where they will nominate the former president for the third time in eight years. At a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill last week, Trump referred to his party’s chosen convention host city as “horrible,” according to a source in the room.

The Trump campaign pushed back on some of the public characterization of the alleged remark, saying he was referring to crime and “voter fraud.” As his alleged comment reverberated around the Badger State, Trump clarified to a Fox News reporter, “I love Milwaukee. I have great friends in Milwaukee” before also criticizing crime there and the city’s stewardship of elections.

Milwaukee – in addition to the state capital of Madison – is a center of Democratic power in Wisconsin and home to more voters than any other city in the state. One in five of the votes for Joe Biden en route to his narrow Wisconsin victory in 2020 were cast in Milwaukee.

The city’s Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, told CNN’s Laura Coates last week that Trump’s alleged remark could prove to be a tactical error.

“In a state that’s decided on a razor’s edge, that may ultimately cost Donald Trump the election,” Johnson said.

Democrats have tried to capitalize on the incident to rally support for Biden around the state’s largest city.

The Democratic National Committee said Friday it had launched 10 billboards across Milwaukee featuring Trump’s alleged remark. The Biden campaign has begun selling T-shirts and stickers with Milwaukee on a Wisconsin outline and the words: “(Not) a Horrible City.”

“I happen to love Milwaukee,” Biden posted on social media Thursday, along with a picture with the Milwaukee Bucks after the team’s NBA championship win in 2021.

A focus on crime

Trump made crime in major cities a central pillar of his successful 2016 White House bid, and Milwaukee was a poster child for his “law and order” campaign against urban violence.

During an appearance just outside the city that year, Trump asserted to a suburban crowd, “The violence, riots and destruction that have taken place in Milwaukee is an assault on the right of all citizens to live in security and peace.”

Trump didn’t come close to winning Milwaukee, but he trounced Democrat Hillary Clinton in the surrounding suburban counties that have become influential in deciding statewide races in Wisconsin. That success helped him become the first Republican presidential nominee to carry Wisconsin since 1988.

Both Biden and Trump aggressively campaigned for votes of Wisconsinites during the 2020 election, which ended with Biden winning the state by less than half a point.

This year, Trump has once again made crime a central focus of his campaign. In announcing the trip to Racine, the Trump team blamed Biden’s polices for “spiked crime across Wisconsin” and asserted that Milwaukee was “experiencing the biggest increase in shootings in the country.”

But a recent New York Times/Siena College poll from Wisconsin found that less than 1 percent of registered voters said crime was a top concern as they weigh their presidential options. Meanwhile, violent crime this year is down and murder rates are plunging nationwide, the FBI said earlier this month.

Trump’s appearance in Racine marks his second to southeast Wisconsin in less than two months, underscoring the importance of the region in the battle ahead. Two of Biden’s four trips to Wisconsin this year have also put him in the same corner of the Badger State.

One of those included an official White House visit to Racine just 20 minutes from where Trump will hold his rally Tuesday. On that visit, Biden spoke at a site where his predecessor once promoted an investment by the Taiwan-based electronics giant Foxconn that later failed.

“Foxconn turned out to be just that – a con,” Biden said. “Go figure.”

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