WAUKESHA — With 40 days left in his campaign, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday doubled down on his Democratic opponent’s past in attempting to win over the most important conservative area of Wisconsin at a rally of nearly 2,000 people in Waukesha.
In his sixth stop to the state since embarking upon a presidential campaign that until recently garnered little support from establishment Republicans like those concentrated in Waukesha, Trump was helped by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who was previously a staunch supporter of former presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.
Thompson told the crowd gathered in the Waukesha County Expo Center that “it’s time to get on the train. The Trump train is moving.”
The former governor likened the real estate mogul who has never been elected to any public office to President Ronald Reagan. But the state’s top Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, were not at the rally that was held in the same venue where Walker in July 2015 announced his own presidential bid that lasted just 70 days.
Thompson said Trump, like Reagan did in the 1980s, is inspiring a movement of patriotism.
The rally Wednesday, just two days after Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sparred in their first debate ahead of November’s election, was held in the heart of one of the country’s most influential movements among conservatives to reject Trump as the way forward for Republicans in the 2016 presidential race.
Trump, along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd that Clinton could not be trusted — and electing her would be continuing a pattern of corruption that began with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas.
“It’s going to be a victory for you, the American people. We are going to end the Clinton corruption and restore dignity and honesty to government service,” Trump said. “Hillary Clinton is an insider who fights only for her donors and for herself. I’m an outsider and I’m fighting for you.
“If she ever got the chance, she would put the Oval Office up for sale,” he said.
He also said the country’s “inner cities are being left behind,” and he would improve lives for Hispanic and black Americans.
“To the African-American community, I say what the hell do you have to lose? I will fix it. Vote for me; I will fix it,” he said.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Philip Shulman described Trump’s speech as “unhinged and incoherent.” He said Trump “does not have the temperament to be President of the United States.”
Trump said Thompson three months ago urged the candidate to focus on other states because conservatives in Wisconsin wouldn’t support him, but after seeing polling a couple weeks ago, asked him to come back to the state.
Even so, Trump continues to have his work cut out for him in Wisconsin with state Republicans struggling with how to handle his incendiary statements and past support for Clinton.
Trump was crushed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the state’s primary in April after a successful push by prominent state Republicans and conservatives who sold Cruz as the only viable candidate to stop Trump from becoming the GOP nominee and to defeat Clinton.
But on Wednesday, before Trump was set to speak to the crowd of hundreds, some state Republicans got on board with Trump.
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Former GOP Sen. and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, GOP Rep. Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, GOP party chairman Brad Courtney and former U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten all asked Wednesday’s crowd to support the real estate mogul, who was a party outsider until his nomination.
Clinton hasn’t visited Wisconsin since the spring primary, while Trump made two trips since the GOP convention in July before scheduling the Waukesha visit.
Jane Smith of Williams Bay, a bookkeeper at an electric supply company, traveled to Waukesha with her friend Mary Ong wearing bright pink T-shirts that read “Wisconsin Women for Trump” in black block lettering.
Smith said her support of Trump is rooted in her opposition to Clinton.
“I don’t trust Hillary and I don’t believe anything she has to say,” said Smith, 52.
Smith said she likes Trump because he hasn’t spent decades in politics like Clinton and isn’t polished, as illustrated by his performance at Monday’s debate at Hofstra University in New York.
“She did well; I thought he could have done better,” said Smith. “But that’s a big part of why I like him — he’s not a politician.”
Jay Schroeder of Neenah, a mortgage and loan officer, said the debate’s questions were designed to discredit Trump’s qualifications. He said questioning Trump about his previous comments implying President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. was unfair.
“The country has 21 trillion in debt — I really don’t care where (Obama) was born,” said Schroeder, 54. “If the economy collapses, that’s what affects you and me — not where (Obama) was born.”
Democratic strategist Paul Maslin said Trump can win the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina and still lose the election. He has to cut into Clinton’s electoral college total by winning states that are leaning Democratic, such as Virginia, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.
Republican pollster Gene Ulm said Trump is likely making a push in Wisconsin because of its blue-collar nature, but he has struggled in the suburban Milwaukee counties. They’re very Republican, but Republicans there are highly educated and that has been a tougher group for Trump to lock down.
“Trump’s support drops off among those kind of voters,” Ulm said. “If support drops off two to three points (in Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties) it crushes any Republican.”
Ulm said the results of state polls in the wake of Monday night’s first debate could influence where the candidates dedicate their time in the final six weeks before the election.
The next Marquette Law School Poll won’t be out for two weeks, poll director Charles Franklin said.
Franklin said Chelsea Clinton’s scheduled visit to Green Bay on Friday is an indication the Clinton campaign is seeing Wisconsin as a much closer state than what it was a month ago.
State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.