Why Trump Trashed RNC Site Milwaukee


Trump arrives at the Capitol Hill Club to meet with House Republicans and diss Milwaukee on June 13, 2024.
Photo: Allison Bailey/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty

You don’t have to be an expert political strategist to know that presidential candidates shouldn’t call any American city “horrible.” That’s particularly true if the city in question is in a battleground state. And it would be lunacy to denounce the site of your upcoming party convention.

Yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump did on Thursday morning:

So what was Trump thinking? Here are three possible explanations.

Trump didn’t publicly bash the largest city in Wisconsin. He made the remark during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. It’s possible that he trusted his Republican pals to keep his remarks private, but it seems some Judas in the GOP conference leaked them to Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News.

Wisconsin congressmen and GOP officials offered at least four different explanations for Trump’s remarks, ranging from outright denial to claiming he was calling some specific aspect of Milwaukee “horrible,” not the whole city.

Perhaps Trump purposely insulted Milwaukee because he’s laying the groundwork for skipping the Republican National Convention.

Trump’s sentencing in the New York hush-money case is on July 11, just four days before the start of the convention. NBC News reported on Thursday that the convention is being set up so Trump can participate virtually, in case he’s sentenced to home confinement (other possibilities include a fine, probation, or even jail time):

Preparations are being made at both Mar-a-Lago, his home in Florida, and in Milwaukee, the host city for the convention next month, should Trump either choose to make appearances from afar or be unable to attend, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

A Trump-campaign senior adviser denied this, telling NBC News, “At no time has convention planning involved any option than President Trump in person to accept his formal nomination as president.”

But other sources said the Republican National Committee is setting up a giant screen at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, along with stages that match the convention theme at Mar-a-Lago, in case Trump can’t go to Wisconsin or just doesn’t feel like it:

The Republican operative who viewed the convention site said that the idea of Trump’s being under house arrest was not discussed during tours in Milwaukee and that people were told there is a chance Trump could just choose to hold convention-related events from Mar-a-Lago.

A Trump campaign official, though, confirmed to NBC News that the idea that he could be under house arrest for the convention is part of the planning process. 

Trump can now save face by claiming he didn’t want to go to a “horrible city” like Milwaukee anyway.

Trump has been “negging” Wisconsin since the run-up to the state’s 2016 GOP primary, as Mother Jones observed at the time:

Trump has made a habit of dissing the current condition of things in Wisconsin to promise a brighter future when he’s president. …

“I’ve got statistics on Wisconsin that are unbelievable,” Trump said [at a rally in Racine], breaking from his typical off-the-cuff speech to glance at some notes. “You think we’re doing nicely and everybody thinks they’re doing well, but I have some statistics. You could write out some of the numbers—you look at your manufacturing jobs, you know better than anybody how they’ve gone to other countries. They’re gone. I mean, they’re literally gone.”

“I thought Wisconsin was doing well,” Trump concluded, “and it’s not true! It’s oookay, it’s in the middle of the pack. Nothing spectacular.”

Despite routinely insulting Wisconsin, Trump won it in 2016. But in 2020 Joe Biden flipped the state by an extremely narrow margin (0.63 percent). Trump challenged the results, but a recount only reaffirmed Biden’s win.

Trump may still be seething about getting burned by Wisconsin voters. At a rally last month in Waukesha, he lightly threatened Wisconsinites while discussing the upcoming convention.

“As you know, we’ll be holding our convention in Milwaukee just a few months from now and we can’t wait,” Trump said. “That means you got to vote for us because we are spending our money in your state to have the big convention. We had lots of options, and we’re coming here.”

While he didn’t say anything overtly insulting back then, it was hard to miss the disappointment in Trump’s voice as he considered all the convention sites that are less “horrible” than Milwaukee.

This post has been updated with GOP responses to Trump’s reported remark.

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