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As Trump's Delegate Count Rises, Some Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Are Conflicted

Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images
Donald Trump at a campaign rally At Valdosta State University in Georgia.

Donald Trump is celebrating victories in seven Super Tuesday states. GOP rival Ted Cruz captured three states, while Marco Rubio took one.

As Trump's delegate count rises, Wisconsin Republicans are wondering how to respond. The businessman and political newcomer has frequently come under fire for his brash statements and his not-so-politically-correct stances.

Just recently, Trump refused to renounce the support of white supremacist groups and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump was given the chance to do so on CNN. Instead, this exchange ensued:

Donald Trump: "I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong."

Interviewer: "The Ku Klux Klan?"

Trump: "You may have groups in there that are totally fine and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I'll let you know."

Trump's opponents in the presidential race blasted him for failing to take that opportunity to speak out against white supremacists. So did some prominent Wisconsin politicians.

"I try to stay out of the day-to-day ups and downs of the primary, but I've also said when I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and as a country, I will speak up," said House Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference Tuesday morning.

"This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental. And if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this," Ryan said.

Yet Ryan stopped short of refusing to back Trump, should he become the party's nominee. "I think I've said enough this morning about what's happening right now, but my plan is to support the nominee," he said.

Another Wisconsin member of Congress also is attempting to address concerns about Trump, while not renouncing him. Last week, at a stop in Madison, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he'd support the candidate who wins the GOP nomination. Then this week, in an interview on WTMJ radio, Johnson criticized Trump over the white supremacists controversy. When asked whether he'd vote for Trump, Johnson replied: "I go to bed every night praying that our nominee is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas and courage. I mean, this nation hungers for somebody who can lead this nation, not be divisive."

Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble has been more pointed in his disapproval. He reacted in December to Trump’s suggestion that the United States keep Muslims out of the country.

"Had he said, like many of us have been saying, we need to restrict jihadists and terrorists from coming into the country, I would have been applauding that. But that's not what he said," Ribble said.

Ribble said if Trump is victorious, and Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, Ribble will be left without a choice in November.

"I wouldn't support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump," Ribble said.

Wisconsin's state GOP leaders are also grappling with how to react to Trump. Gov. Scott Walker says he'll back the party's nominee. Meanwhile, a couple of Assembly members said this week they'd refuse to support Trump.

Republicans are in an unenviable position, according to Marquette University political science professor Julia Azari.

"On the one hand if Trump is the nominee, then that's who they have to support, if they say that they're supporting the nominee. But on the other hand, the alternative is to say our process is invalid somehow," Azari says.

Azari says some lawmakers who typically stick together are disagreeing on how to respond to Trump. But she believes the GOP will be able to sustain the jolt.

"The point of political parties, in some sense, is to bring together coalitions of people that have distinct views and to build a big enough coalition to win elections, and that means that sometimes people in that coalition are going to disagree," Azari says.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.
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