Trump declares love for Milwaukee at rally days after calling it a ‘horrible city’

<span>Donald Trump speaks at his campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin, on 18 June 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters</span>
Donald Trump speaks at his campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin, on 18 June 2024.Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Donald Trump made a brazen bid for support in the vital swing state of Wisconsin on Tuesday by declaring his affection for its biggest population centre, Milwaukee, just days after denigrating it as “a horrible city”.

Needing to explain his own words to a city that will host the Republican national convention next month, the former president predictably chose to tackle the problem head-on at a campaign rally in neighbouring Racine, about 30 miles from Milwaukee along the shore of Lake Michigan.

“I love Milwaukee. I was the one that picked Milwaukee,” he said in his opening words to a cheering crowd at Racine’s open-air festival park.

“These lying people that they say: ‘Oh, he doesn’t like Milwaukee.’ I love Milwaukee. I said, you gotta fix the crime. But I’m the one that picked Milwaukee, and the Democrats, or the radical-left lunatics, as I call them, what they say is just so terrible. They lie, lie, lie.”

His conciliatory message to Milwaukee reflected his campaign’s sensitivity to the potential electoral cost of last week’s remarks in a meeting with congressional Republicans at the US Capitol, Trump’s first visit since the January 6 attack by a mob trying to overturn his presidential election loss to Joe Biden.

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

Republican lawmakers and strategists have scrambled to downplay or contextualise the unflattering remarks, originally reported on the website Punchbowl, which were all the more embarrassing because Milwaukee will host the party’s national convention starting 15 July.

Democrats have seized on the comments with an advertising blitz that included a billboard placed close to the site of Tuesday’s rally that read: “Want to know what’s really ‘horrible?’ Donald Trump for Wisconsin’s economy.”

Ten billboards are being placed throughout Milwaukee blaring out Trump’s negative description in the run-up to the convention, which will see Trump once again nominated as the Republican presidential candidate.

Tuesday’s rally was also Trump’s first visit to Wisconsin since his conviction last month by a New York court on 34 felony counts of falsifying documents to conceal hush-money payments made before the 2016 presidential election to an adult film star who testified to a sexual encounter with him.

The conviction has been another focal point for a $50m Democratic advertising offensive in Wisconsin and other battleground states for the month of June. A 30-second ad that began airing on Monday focused on Trump’s criminal status in an attempt to compare his character negatively with the president’s.

The competitive messaging between the two sides reflects the key battleground status acquired by Wisconsin - which Trump narrowly won in his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, but which Biden won by about 21,000 votes in 2020.

A RealClearPolitics survey this week showed Biden recording a 39.3% approval rating in Wisconsin, with a 55.7% disapproval.

Trump and Biden are running neck and neck in most national polls, with Trump showing leads in several battleground states.