Trump declares ‘I love Milwaukee’ after reportedly using the word ‘horrible’ for the RNC host city

RACINE, Wisconsin (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday repeatedly praised Milwaukee just weeks before it hosts the Republican National Convention, playing cleanup after he reportedly used the word “horrible” in talking about swing-state Wisconsin’s largest city.

“I love Milwaukee,” Trump told the crowd in nearby Racine, Wisconsin. He was reported to have used the word in a closed-door meeting with Republicans in the U.S. House. Several of his allies who were in the meeting later suggested he was talking about crime and voter fraud.

Wisconsin is one of a handful of battleground states likely to determine this year’s presidential race. It was one of the so-called Democratic “blue wall” states that Trump narrowly won in 2016, paving the way for his surprise victory. Biden flipped the state back in 2020, and both campaigns are targeting it heavily this year.

Trump’s Tuesday event in downtown Racine had the feel of a small town Fourth of July celebration. Before the presumptive GOP nominee’s arrival, country music blared from speakers as Trump and American flags waved near a harbor overlooking Lake Michigan. Families gathered under trees, trying to avoid the 83-degree heat while eating tacos and sipping lemonade.

“Wisconsin is Trump country” was written across a large sign as supporters began to gather on the grass, wearing red, white and blue.

In a separate television interview, Trump also denied reports on Tuesday that, during the convention, he was planning to stay overnight in Chicago, Milwaukee’s rival 90 miles to the south, where Trump also has a downtown skyscraper along the Chicago River.

Trump, in his speech, hammered Biden on immigration and the border, including an announcement Tuesday that his administration will in the coming months allow certain spouses of U.S. citizens without legal status to apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship.

The move, which could offer relief to potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the U.S., came after Biden announced his own aggressive crackdown on the southern border earlier this month, enraging advocates and many Democratic lawmakers.

Trump has frequently described the record number of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as an “invasion,” suggesting without evidence that Biden is abetting illegal border crossings to help Democrats win elections.

“Our country is under invasion. We should not be talking amnesty. We should be talking about stopping the invasion instead,” Trump said, calling the plan “an attack on American democracy.”

The crowd responded with chants of “Send them back!”

Trump also denied having called Milwaukee “horrible” during a closed-door meeting with Republican members of Congress in Washington last week, blaming “radical left lunatics” who “lie, lie, lie.”

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung last week did not deny that Trump had used the word, but said he had been taken out of context and “was talking about how terrible crime and voter fraud are.”

Several congressmen who support Trump and attended the meeting also said he was referring to crime and voter fraud, which he falsely alleges marred the 2020 election in the state.

Trump frequently denounces Democratic-led cities as unsafe, even as the latest FBI statistics show violent crime is down across the nation, and repeats falsehoods about his 2020 loss.

Trump repeatedly slammed Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin as a “radical” who “100% voted with Biden” amid cheers from the crowd. He thanked her likely opponent, Eric Hovde, who faces nominal opposition in the Republican primary on Aug. 13, for speaking at the rally, calling him the “dynamo” Wisconsin needs.

“Eric will defeat your radical leftist Senator,” he said.

Hovde called on the crowd to “fire Joe Biden and Tammy Baldwin.”

The likely contest between Baldwin and Hovde is expected to be one of the most competitive and expensive Senate races in the country as Democrats cling to a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Hours before Trump took the stage, a line of hundreds of supporters snaked around the block between rows of hawkers selling Trump T-shirts, hats, signs and flags.

Most of the roughly a dozen Trump supporters interviewed said they were focused on the economy.

Among the supporters waiting was Emmanuel McKinstry, a 58-year-old businessman in Racine, who said, “Economy is #1 for me.”

McKinstry said small Black-owned businesses like his were booming in Racine under Trump’s administration.

“Everything was more affordable under Trump,” he said. “But inflation has ballooned under Biden, and it’s businesses that are suffering.”

He said he’s also concerned about crime in Racine after losing two brothers to gun violence.

Dimple Navratil, 58, from Bombay, India, has lived in Racine for 25 years, running a small gift shop downtown called Dimple’s Imports. She said she’d be speaking about her experience as a woman business owner during the rally.

“Under Trump’s presidency, small businesses were thriving,” she said. “I’m very positive that’ll happen again if he’s in office.”

Samantha Cross, 35, drove nearly two hours from Radford, Illinois, to attend the rally. With four kids, she said the cost of groceries, school supplies and clothes for her children have skyrocketed amid inflation under Biden. A few years ago, she said she could feed her family of five with about $500 a month. Now, that cost has doubled, she said.

“I’m here for the future of my kids,” she said.

And Matthew Brown, 56, said he’s struggling to afford rising rent in Racine while caring for his mother, who has dementia.

“I’m hopeful Trump is going to fix this mess — or at least try,” he said. Brown wore a shirt that said “I’m voting for the felon” in bright red, white and blue.

___ Colvin reported from New York.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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