MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans either reiterated their support for Donald Trump or said nothing Monday, even after House Speaker Paul Ryan told nervous members of his caucus that he will not defend the Republican presidential nominee or campaign with him before the election.
Incumbent Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Sean Duffy, whose northern Wisconsin district was the only one Trump carried in the April primary, both stood by Trump while Gov. Scott Walker, legislative leaders and others were silent.
“I never endorsed Donald Trump because of his stance on women or his family values,” Duffy said in a statement. “I endorsed him for his policies … four years of Hillary Clinton would be unacceptable.”
Johnson told reporters following a campaign stop in Waukesha that he intended to vote for Trump because a Clinton presidency “would be the worst possible thing.”
“She’s completely disqualified from being president,” he said. Johnson said her “dereliction of duty” cost four American lives in Benghazi and her use of a private email server put national security at risk. Johnson, in an earlier radio interview, said Clinton “trashed the women that Bill Clinton abused” — a line of attack that Trump used against her in the presidential debate Sunday.
Johnson said the real question is why his opponent, Democrat Russ Feingold, continues to back Clinton. Feingold on Monday repeated his call for Johnson to revoke his support of Trump.
More than two dozen Republicans in Congress have called on Trump to step down and at least a dozen more have pulled their support, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte who are in tough re-election fights in battleground states.
Trump’s campaign was thrown into crisis Friday with the release of audio from 2005 featuring Trump making lewd remarks and bragging about how his fame allowed him to “do anything” to women. During the second presidential debate Sunday, the businessman dismissed his comments as “locker room” talk and insisted he had “great respect for women.”
At the debate, Trump turned up his attacks on Clinton, labeling her “the devil” and threatening to throw her in jail for her email practices at the State Department. He also accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of having been “abusive to women.”
While Johnson and other Republicans stood by Trump, Ryan told House Republicans that he would no longer defend or campaign for him and instead would focus on helping Republicans maintain their majority in the House, said one person on the call who demanded anonymity to describe the private conversation.
Ryan did not pull his own tepid endorsement of Trump, who shot back on Twitter that Ryan “should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”
Ryan canceled a Trump campaign appearance in Wisconsin on Saturday in what would have been their first joint appearance. Ryan was heckled by some Trump supporters as he addressed the rally that was originally designed as a display of party unity.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, who represents the 5th Congressional District in the eastern part of the state, stood by Trump on Monday. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “I am not prepared to have four more years of open borders, four more years of over-regulation of industry and four more years of spiraling welfare rolls just yet. I don’t feel like waiting four more years.”
The 8th Congressional District in northeast Wisconsin is open this year, and Ryan has said he’s focused on helping Mike Gallagher win the seat against Democrat Tom Nelson. Gallagher criticized Trump’s comments about women but has been generally supportive of his candidacy. On Monday, Gallagher again denounced Trump’s comments as “offensive and reprehensible” but said Clinton can’t be president because of how she handled the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state.
Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, who holds the seat now and is retiring after this year, was an early Trump opponent.
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