Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump was given no quarter on Wisconsin conservative talk radio Monday.
Trump, blitzing Wisconsin before the April 5 primary, made the talk radio rounds Monday with hosts including Charlie Sykes, Jerry Bader and Vicki McKenna.
The hosts pressed Trump on his campaign promises and hammered him for what they described as his crass rhetoric and inconsistent support for conservative causes. The exchanges contrasted with the fawning reception Trump has gotten from some in the national conservative media.
It also could have repercussions among GOP voters in Wisconsin’s primary, many of whom view talk radio as a prime source for political news.
Trump is expected to hold events in Wisconsin throughout the week, starting with a rally Tuesday in Janesville. Recent polls show a tight contest between Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich trailing. Trump will speak today in Janesville.
Trump’s response to the tense interviews shifted between exasperation, defensiveness and surprise.
He told Sykes on-air that before coming on his show, he didn’t know Sykes was among his critics.
When Bader professed support for Trump’s GOP rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump appeared to bristle.
“I’m a little surprised that a talk show host would be supporting somebody. ... You’d think there’d be a certain impartiality,” Trump said.
McKenna grilled Trump on the plausibility of his vow to bring U.S. manufacturing jobs back from China and Mexico.
She also knocked Trump for what she described as a candidacy that is splitting the Republican coali- tion.
“You are dividing Republicans,” McKenna told Trump.
“I’m not looking to divide Republicans,” Trump responded.
After a sharp exchange on whether spouses and children should be off limits in campaigns, Trump hung up on the radio host.
Sykes launched his interview with Trump, after a brief aside to congratulate him on the birth of his grandchild, by saying “here in Wisconsin, we value things like civility, decency and actual conservative principles.”
Asked why Republicans shouldn’t take his claim to be a conservative as “just a giant fraud,” Trump defended his history of contributing to both Republican and Democratic politicians.
“I was Republican. But I gave money to all politicians, which was frankly a thing that you would do, and every businessman would do,” Trump said. “I never thought that I was going to be running for office.”
Sykes also pushed Trump to apologize for a heated exchange on Twitter with Cruz regarding the candidates’ wives — which Trump declined to do.
“He started it,” Trump told Sykes. “All this was was a response to what he did.”Trump mistakenly accused Cruz last week of posting a racy magazine photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, in a campaign ad. The photo actually was used by a super PAC that is independent of Cruz’s campaign.
Trump’s initial tweet also included an unspecified threat to Cruz in which Trump threatened to “spill the beans on your wife!”
That led to a heated exchange on Twitter over the next few days, with both sides making accusations.
On Wednesday, Trump retweeted a post comparing a picture of Melania Trump to an unflattering photo of Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, and saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
The tweet prompted Cruz, during a campaign stop in Dane on Thursday, to call Trump a “sniveling coward” and tell him to “leave Heidi the hell alone.”
Trump told Sykes that Cruz “totally knew” about the super PAC using the photo of Melania Trump. Candidates are barred by federal law from working with such groups.
Trump also denied that he considered the picture of Heidi Cruz that he retweeted to be unflattering.
“I didn’t know it was necessarily a very bad picture of her versus Melania,” Trump said.
Sykes did not seem impressed by Trump’s rationale.
“I expect that from a 12-year-old bully on the playground, not somebody who wants the office held by Abraham Lincoln,” Sykes said.