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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Robert Tait in Washington

Democrats seize on Trump’s ‘horrible city’ remark about Milwaukee for ads

a man in a blue suit and blue tie speaks into a microphone
Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington DC on Thursday. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

US Democrats have seized on Donald Trump’s dismissal of Milwaukee as “a horrible city” by trumpeting the unflattering description on advertising hoardings – a month before the city in the swing state of Wisconsin hosts the Republican national convention, where the former president is set to be the party’s presidential nominee this November.

Trump reportedly made the comment in a meeting with congressional Republicans in Washington on Thursday, his first return to Capitol Hill since extremist supporters broke into Congress on 6 January 2021, to try to stop Joe Biden’s victory over him.

Republican party figures found themselves scrambling to contain the fallout from a political own goal over a city purposely chosen to host the convention on 15-18 July, because Wisconsin is expected to be key to the outcome of the 2024 election.

Trump and Biden are running neck and neck in the state, according to numerous polls.

The remark calling Milwaukee horrible, initially reported on X (formerly Twitter) by Jake Sherman, a reporter for the political website Punchbowl, drew immediate condemnation from Democrats. Republicans – recognising the extent of the possible damage – initially denied the comment had been made, before trying to soften the blow by putting it in various contexts.

In a graphic sign of the high stakes, the Democratic election machine swiftly commissioned several billboards to be erected in Milwaukee, the local newspaper the Journal Sentinel reported.

One featured a picture of Trump next to an image of the X post that broke the story. “TRUMP TO HOUSE REPUBLICANS: ‘Milwaukee, where we are having our convention, is a horrible city,’” it read.

The other had the incriminating quote next to a picture of the former president against a red background.

Ten billboards are planned to be placed throughout the city in the run-up to the convention to maximise the words’ effect.

Sherman’s post, which had generated nearly 5m views by Thursday evening, sparked a political firestorm and was immediately jumped on by Milwaukee’s mayor, Cavalier Johnson.

“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,” Johnson said, as reported by NBC.

He added: “It is kind of strange that he would insult the largest city in Wisconsin because he’s running for president – he absolutely wants to win Wisconsin, win the election. So, to insult the state that’s hosting your convention, I think, is kind of bizarre actually. It’s kind of unhinged.”

Addy Toevs, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Trump had “made his contempt for Wisconsinites and their home clear”.

He added: “The dislike is mutual – in 2020, Wisconsin handed Trump a one-way ticket back to exile in Mar-a-Lago and sent President Biden to the Oval Office. In November, they’ll do it again.”

Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Wisconsin as a must-win state in November’s poll. Biden won it by a margin of about 21,000 votes in the 2020 election, although Trump challenged some vote tallies in his drive to prove that the election had been “stolen”.

Trump scored a narrow win in the state in the 2016 election, a result that played a crucial role in his victory over Hillary Clinton.

Milwaukee is on the western shore of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago and east of the state capital of Madison, and is a minority white, largely industrial city that votes Democratic, with a long history of racial segregation laws against Black residents. African Americans make up almost 39% of the population, with about 20% Hispanic or Latino.

In a tacit admission of the potential self-harm inflicted, Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, described the reporting of the comment as “total bullshit”.

“He never said it like how it’s been falsely characterized as,” Cheung posted on X, insisting that Trump had been referring to crime and election issues.

Joanna Walters contributed reporting

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