JANESVILLE, Wis. – Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump brought his campaign to Wisconsin for the first time on Tuesday, vowing to win the state’s primary next week even as he insulted GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
“Am I going to say he’s doing a great job? He’s not doing a great job,” Trump told about 1,500 people jammed in a hotel ballroom in Janesville.
Trump noted that Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate has dropped under Walker even as its population rose, and maintained that the state has disproportionately lost manufacturing jobs to other countries.
Earlier Tuesday, Walker — who dropped out of the presidential race last September — endorsed Trump’s chief remaining rival in the race, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Walker said in a Milwaukee radio interview that he was not simply trying to block Trump and that he believes Cruz is the best remaining Republican candidate.
“He certainly can’t endorse me after what I did to him in the race,” Trump countered to hoots and hollers from the crowd.
Wisconsin’s presidential primary is next Tuesday, and with no other major contests this week, the five remaining candidates from the two parties are lavishing attention on Minnesota’s next-door neighbor. All five — Trump, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, along with Democrats Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — have campaigned in Wisconsin in recent days, with more stops planned.
“I’m going to be here the whole week,” Trump said.
His remarks at a Janesville Holiday Inn Express drew more than 5,000 people, with most of them outside the packed ballroom. Mobs of people lined up out front of the hotel, with dozens of vendors hawking Trump gear and a smaller group of about 100 protesters kept at bay by a snow fence.
Fairly sedate rally
Despite the rowdy scene out front, Trump’s rally itself was fairly sedate compared to recent rallies that saw outbreaks of violence between supporters and protesters.
Speaking and then taking questions for just short of an hour, Trump returned repeatedly to many of the by-now familiar themes of his unconventional campaign: complaints that “America doesn’t win anymore,” a promise that as president he would bring back manufacturing jobs, calls to crack down on illegal immigration.
Another theme throughout the speech was scathing criticism of his fellow Republican candidates and other leading figures in the party. He won perhaps his biggest round of applause by calling 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney “a dope, not a smart person.” But his biggest target was Cruz.
“Cruz has not accomplished anything. He’s an insider, but he doesn’t get anything done,” Trump said.
While the Janesville rally was Trump’s first Wisconsin stop, Cruz has already made more than a dozen in the state. Trump has won the most statewide presidential contests so far and holds a sizable delegate lead over Cruz, but the Texas senator is trying to peel off enough wins and delegates to keep the contest going up to the Republican National Convention in July.
Trump told his crowd that Wisconsin could help him end things sooner than that.
“I want to win Wisconsin because if we can win here, we can put all this stupidity away,” he said. “Stupid, stupid people. I’m talking about politicians.”
Mike and Shona LaSalle, a banker and a retired teacher from Burnsville, are in Madison for an extended stay and drove 30 miles south to check out Trump. The LaSalles said they are political independents but they like Trump’s style. “He’s for the people,” Shona LaSalle said. “He’s down to earth, he tells it like it is and I like that.”
Heidi Verbeten, a psychiatric social worker from Madison, drove down to protest Trump. She held a sign that read: “Strong People Don’t Put Down Others, They Lift Them Up.” “He dumbs everything down to a grade school bully level,” Verbeten said. “I don’t think he has the temperament or the personality to be president.”
At the rally, Trump said his campaign is not about him.
“There is something happening, and it’s like a movement,” Trump said. “It’s not me. I’m just a messenger.”