MILWAUKEE — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Friday likened his business background to that of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, while affirming his support in the general election for the controversial businessman and reality TV star.
“I fully intend to support our nominee,” Johnson told reporters before a school-choice event in Milwaukee.
Trump — by winning the Indiana primary and driving his two Republican rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, out of the race — emerged this week as the presumptive GOP White House nominee.
It capped a remarkable Republican primary in which Trump, not long ago dismissed by many in the media and in the Republican Party, now is positioning himself for a likely November matchup with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told reporters Friday that voters are hungry for candidates like him and Trump, who aren’t career politicians.
“People with a different perspective, from the business sector, from the private sector — we know how to solve problems,” Johnson said. “I think the American public is saying: ‘Give these folks a chance.’ ”
But Johnson also acknowledged the challenges presented by Trump’s lack of experience in public service. He said he wants to give Trump, a businessman who has not held elected office, “a little space” to learn about issues facing the country.
“Let’s give the presumptive nominee the opportunity to get the briefings,” Johnson said. “I’ve gone through that process. It takes quite a while to get up to speed.”
Like Trump, Johnson not long ago was a business executive without a background in politics. He had never held office before he defeated Democrat Russ Feingold in the 2010 election. Feingold, D-Middleton, is challenging Johnson again in this year’s election.
Feingold, speaking with reporters after meeting with a group of seniors in Madison, said embracing Trump at this point is “irresponsible.”
“As I go around this state, what I hear is that middle income and working families are worried about how to pay the bills,” Feingold said. “Nobody has said to me they miss the good old days when you could punch somebody in the face at a rally.”
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But Feingold also said it would be foolish to underestimate Trump “because people are frustrated.”
“People are having a hard time paying their bills,” Feingold said. “Anybody who looks at that and thinks that the election is in the bag is making a terrible mistake.”
Many Republicans and conservatives view Trump, who has bucked the party line on issues such as trade and Social Security reform, with wariness or outright hostility.
Johnson hedged Friday when asked if Trump is a principled conservative.
“In some areas, absolutely,” Johnson said. “In others, I won’t agree with him.”
In a move unprecedented in the history of modern presidential campaigns, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican elected official in the country, said Thursday that he can’t yet back Trump. Ryan previously had said he would support whoever is the GOP nominee.
Feingold, a Janesville native, called Ryan’s statement “a little bit of Janesville common sense from our hometown.”
While ending Friday’s press conference, Johnson — asked if Trump can win a general election in Wisconsin — described the question as “hypothetical.”
A reporter pointed out that, with Trump as the presumptive nominee, it’s no longer hypothetical.
By then, Johnson had ended the press conference and was leaving the room.