WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans repeatedly praised President Donald Trump at their state convention Saturday, a stark contrast to last year when his name was rarely mentioned amid turmoil over his pending nomination.
Republicans also focused their attention on helping Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel win re-election next year and defeating Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The annual GOP convention brought together hundreds of party insiders, activists and officeholders for speeches, awards and socializing.
It also gave Republicans a chance to bask in huge electoral wins both in Wisconsin and nationally last year. Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee to carry Wisconsin since 1984, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson won re-election and Republicans increased majorities in the state Legislature.
And while many Republicans shied away from Trump last year when he was the presumptive nominee, not even mentioning his name at the convention, this year they were hailing him as president.
“I never get tired of saying Republican President Donald Trump,” said state party chairman Brad Courtney.
Johnson, who was among the many who didn’t mention Trump at the convention last year, kicked this year’s gathering off by saying Trump’s win helped to “save” the U.S. Supreme Court. And Alex Walker, the son of the governor and chairman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College Republican, highlighted the effort of young people in electing Trump. He did not mention Trump last year and instead talked about how college students were united behind Johnson.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has clashed with Trump but refused this week to criticize his firing of FBI Director James Comey, used his speech to thank Wisconsin for delivering its 10 electoral votes to Trump. Democrats are so angry about Trump and GOP victories they will be mobilized for next year’s midterm elections so Republicans must be ready, said U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy.
Wisconsin Senate President Roger Roth thanked Senate President Scott Fitzgerald for being an early backer of Trump when “nobody, and I mean nobody,” in Wisconsin was supporting him.
Trump divided Wisconsin Republicans and lost the Wisconsin primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Walker endorsed Cruz in the primary but eventually came to back Trump. But just like last year, Walker didn’t mention Trump in his speech Saturday.
Democrats argue Trump’s win will come back to haunt Republicans on the ballot in Wisconsin next year.
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“The only people more surprised than Democrats that Trump won the Electoral College last year were Scott Walker’s establishment Wisconsin Republicans,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. “In 2018 when Trump’s catastrophic first two years are back on the ballot, Scott Walker and Republicans on the campaign trail will go back to treating him as a silent partner.”
Ross also said Ryan and GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher haven’t held any town halls this year because Trump has been a “disaster.” Ryan on Friday defended not holding any town halls, saying he didn’t want his constituents to be harassed.
Walker focused his speech on his record and looking ahead to his re-election campaign. Walker received a standing ovation from the roughly 600 people in attendance when he said he was “ready” for four more years.
“I am ready to do more to help move Wisconsin forward – the simple question this morning is – are you ready?” Walker said.
Walker spoke for just 12 minutes, about half as long as last year, and his slot was moved up so he could leave to attend the college graduation ceremony of his son, Alex Walker.
Schimel cast his re-election against Democratic attorney Josh Kaul as the choice between a supporter of the state’s voter identification law and an opponent of it. Kaul is lead attorney in a lawsuit fighting the law, which Schimel is defending.
Kaul said in an email response that Schimel should be talking about “the need for a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. What Wisconsin needs to hear is why Brad Schimel won’t call for a special prosecutor. I have, and I’m asking him to join me.”
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