BURLINGTON, Wis. (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan campaigned for Sen. Ron Johnson in southern Wisconsin on Thursday, but he avoided expanding on his surprise announcement that he couldn’t currently support the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Neither Ryan nor Johnson mentioned Trump during the campaign event or fielded reporters’ questions afterward. While Johnson name-checked other Republicans he admires — including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Ryan — he did not mention Trump during the rally. He followed Ryan’s lead in refusing the take questions afterward.
The campaign stop came at the same time that CNN was broadcasting a pre-recorded interview with Ryan where he said he couldn’t support Trump “at this point.” Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, added that he hoped to be able to support Trump in the future.
Ryan’s comments and the campaign rally for Johnson came the day after Trump’s path to the GOP presidential nomination became clear. His last rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, dropped out of the race on Wednesday, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gave up the night before.
Some Republicans have refused to back Trump as their nominee, raising concerns that it could hurt GOP candidates in other races. Both Ryan and Johnson, who is in a tough re-election fight, had previously said they would back whoever is the Republican nominee.
Many national Republicans, including Ryan, fear that Trump’s uninhibited remarks about women, Hispanics and others will turn off more traditional GOP voters, hurting the party’s chances at retaining majority control of the House and Senate.
While Ryan and Johnson steered clear of mentioning Trump, others at the rally openly shared their concerns about the billionaire businessman and reality TV star.
“I hate him,” said Patrice Ochs of Milwaukee, a Johnson supporter who said she won’t be voting for Trump. “I hate his ways, I hate his mouth.”
Ochs, a 64-year-old semi-retired property manager, said she will write-in another candidate rather than vote for Trump. And she said she knows many other Republicans who will do the same thing.
“I think it puts a black eye on the Republican Party as a whole,” she said of Trump’s presumptive nomination.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it was “too early to tell” whether having Trump as the nominee would help or hurt Johnson’s chances. Vos first supported Marco Rubio, then Cruz and said Thursday “now we’re down to Donald Trump.”
Vos said he wanted more details from Trump about what specifically he plans to do to fulfill his signature campaign promise to “make America great again.” He said he also expects Trump to change his approach now that he’s the presumptive nominee.
“Once you become the nominee of any political party you want to win, so you have a tendency to change how you operate,” Vos said.
Johnson already faced a tough re-election bid before Trump rose to the top of the GOP field.
The Wisconsin contest is critical to Democratic hopes of recapturing majority control of the Senate, and they would seem to have the edge. No Republican senator in Wisconsin has been elected in a presidential year since 1980. The state has not backed a Republican’s White House bid since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
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