Behind Closed Doors, Trump Disparages Milwaukee, Host of His Party’s Convention

Behind Closed Doors, Trump Disparages Milwaukee, Host of His Party’s Convention

Former President Donald J. Trump on Thursday repeatedly disparaged the city of Milwaukee, which will host the Republican National Convention in July, while meeting with a group of his G.O.P. allies in the House on Capitol Hill.

The city, the most populous in the battleground state of Wisconsin, became a target of Mr. Trump’s complaints and election falsehoods during a closed-door session with Republicans in Washington, even as Mr. Trump is set to accept his party’s presidential nomination there next month.

Mr. Trump’s exact language and the degree of disdain of his comments were disputed by his allies, but his campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, acknowledged on X that Mr. Trump had criticized the city’s crime rate and its role in his loss in the 2020 election.

Mr. Cheung pushed back on one description of the meeting by Punchbowl News, which reported that Mr. Trump had called Milwaukee “horrible.” Mr. Cheung used an expletive to describe the outlet’s report, which he said was “wrong.”

“He was talking about how terrible crime and voter fraud are,” Mr. Cheung wrote.

Milwaukee’s mayor and Wisconsin’s governor, who are both Democrats, condemned Mr. Trump’s criticism of the city, which is set to host thousands of Republican delegates and dignitaries from July 15 to July 18.

“Well, if Donald Trump wants to talk about things that he thinks are horrible, all of us lived through his presidency, so right back at you, buddy,” Cavalier Johnson, the city’s mayor, said during a news conference on Thursday.

“So to insult the state that’s hosting your convention, I think is kind of bizarre, actually,” he added.

Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin reposted the Punchbowl News description of Mr. Trump’s comments with a clown emoji on X.

“Add it to the list of things Donald Trump is wrong about,” Mr. Evers wrote.

Representative Derrick Van Orden, a Wisconsin Republican who met with Mr. Trump on Thursday and who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, wrote on X that Mr. Trump’s criticism of Milwaukee was legitimate. He linked to a more than year-old and now outdated report that ranked Milwaukee as having the third-highest violent crime rate among the nation’s largest cities.

Denigrating Milwaukee is a regular pastime for Wisconsin Republicans and their allies in the local conservative media, who have made trashing the city a central part of their political identity. For years, Republicans who have controlled the Sate Legislature since 2011 have dismissed the state’s largest city and its voters.

“If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the State Assembly, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the state’s voters turned out Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, in the 2018 election.

Mr. Vos and other Republicans later complained when Mr. Evers, the governor, appointed cabinet secretaries from the city.

Then when Mr. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020, his campaign lawyers sought to invalidate ballots cast in the city, which votes overwhelmingly Democratic in state and national elections. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected his efforts.

Last year the Republican-controlled state legislature allowed Milwaukee to — for the first time — enact a sales tax to help the city plug revenue gaps and avoid a likely bankruptcy. The arrangement was seen locally as part of an implicit deal with the Milwaukee’s Democratic leaders in exchange for them being good and welcoming hosts for this year’s Republican National Convention.

Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

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