Tepid reception at Republican dinner bodes poorly for Trump in Wisconsin


Ted Cruz was clearly the main event at the Milwaukee gathering, where Sarah Palin, appearing on Donald Trumps behalf, struggled to stir up enthusiasm

Senator Ted Cruz has a secret.

You can tell because he slows down as hes about to tell it as he did on Friday night in Wisconsin, when talking about the governors union-busting law, Act 10, which limited the rights of public sector unions to collectively bargain and sparked an unsuccessful recall effort .

The courage and principle that Scott Walker and the people of Wisconsin demonstrated in that fight, over and over and over again he began. He dropped his voice and slowed the sentence, inviting listeners to lean forward and catch the unexpected ending: is exactly the courage and principle we need in Washington DC to turn this country around.

Well, maybe it wasnt a secret but it was a rhetorical trick to sound like a secret that Cruz used repeatedly, like any good debate-club veteran. And the Cruz-inclined crowd at the Milwaukee Republicans event, gathered at the American Serb Hall, ate it up with the cole slaw, mashed potatoes and vast quantities of tartar sauce at the worlds largest weekly fish fry.

Seated at communal tables, the crowd of 750 had, by the time Cruz entered the room, already been treated to a history lesson from John Kasich, one of his rivals, and a political speech disguised as a bedtime story from Sarah Palin, a former governor of Alaska and surrogate for his other rival, Donald Trump. There was no doubt, though, that Cruz was the main event: he had a local conservative radio host and the governor, popular here if not around Wisconsin to warm up the crowd for him.

The banquet hall was the largest room the local Republican leaders had ever needed for their regular election-year event they had to call the state party to handle the surprising sellout crowd and the national media interest.

We anticipate and always hope that Wisconsin will always have its say in the election, explained Rick Baas, communications director for the Republican party of Milwaukee County. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we dont. This time were going to have a lot to say, he added, referring to a primary race that has gone on longer than anyone would have anticipated.

Attendees paid $40 a plate (and an open bar), but the high price of the meal did not seem to bother many of the fiscally conservative, pro-tax cuts crowd. The party activists were not broadly disposed toward a contested convention, though former governor Tommy Thompson, who introduced Kasich, warned them that it was coming regardless of how they voted on Tuesday. Nor did the folks who sang along to both the national anthem and God Bless America seem particularly enthusiastic about the absentee Trump or his surrogate Palin. Few people lined up to pick up Trump yard signs, and Palins speech garnered only polite applause.

I would think that if you wanted the votes, you would show up, Baas said when asked about his Trumps absence and the last-minute addition of Palin. When I was running for office, I went everywhere I was running.

Scott Walker greets Ted Cruz in Milwaukee. Photograph: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

Palins tepid reception contrasted with cheers for Cruz and Kasich, and even her tongue-in-cheek call for candidates to pledge their support for a former Green Bay Packers induction to the Football Hall of Fame fell flat. The biggest reaction her speech provoked came when she said only Trump talks rationally about foreign policy. A few loud laughs broke out from the back.

Still, she gamely kept on keepin on. She called Republicans support for free trade policies a nonsensical ideology, suggested that they amounted to trade surrender, and displayed a firm handle on some of the minutiae of free trade policy that might surprise her 2008-era critics. She also criticized what she said was the liberal policy of inducing and seducing undocumented immigrants to come to the US, with gift baskets of teddy bears and soccer balls, an apparent reference to the 10,000 unaccompanied children a month who came across the US border in 2014.

Even a reference to Clintons role in Benghazi, a popular topic for other speakers, earned her only a smattering of applause. Near the end of her speech, the audience rose to its feet to politely applaud her before shed actually finished.

Kasich, low-key by comparison, opened his speech by acknowledging that 38% of Wisconsin Republicans have no idea who he is. He won plenty of applause for his heavily autobiographical speech, particularly when he brought up the importance of tax cuts and his plan to return control of education and healthcare policies, among others, to the states. Some of his supporters in the crowd, who waved signs as he took and then left the stage, even zig-zagged through the maze of tables to try to get selfies with the governor.

But for nearly every one of Cruzs campaign promises repeal Obamacare, enact a flat tax, abolish the IRS, rein in the EPA, reduce regulations on small businesses, increase military spending, end the rules of engagement for US troops serving abroad, and realize a day of reckoning for jihadists on his eventual inauguration day the crowd applauded, cheered and even whistled.

The event did not bode well for Trumps chances in the state, or at least the Milwaukee suburbs critical to Tuesdays election, though the candidate has added events in Racine, Eau Claire, West Allis and Milwaukee to his schedule. Nor did the dinner look good for Kasich, who has to pick up more delegates here to play the role of convention spoiler for both Trump and Cruz. But given the many times the phrase constitutional conservative was repeated by speakers on Friday night, the populist businessman and compassionate conservative might never really have had a chance among the party faithful.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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