Democrats pounce on Trump calling Milwaukee ‘horrible’

Democrats are seizing on Donald Trump’s characterization of Milwaukee as a “horrible” city, attempting to make the former president pay politically for dissing the most populous part of a key swing state — and one that will host Republicans’ national convention in July.

“In a state that’s decided on a razor’s edge, that may ultimately cost Donald Trump the election,” Cavalier Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Wisconsin’s largest city, told CNN’s Laura Coates on Thursday night.

The Democratic National Committee said Friday it was launching 10 billboards across the city featuring Trump’s comments. President Joe Biden’s campaign immediately began selling T-shirts and stickers with images of Wisconsin, with Milwaukee’s location marked on them, and the words: “(Not) a Horrible City.”

The party’s top figures, meanwhile, took to social media to highlight the former president’s remarks, which were reportedly made during a closed-door meeting Thursday with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Biden posted a photo showing him holding a Milwaukee Bucks jersey alongside team members who visited the White House after winning the NBA championship in 2021.

“I happen to love Milwaukee,” Biden wrote.

And Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, wrote on social media: “Add it to the list of things Donald Trump is wrong about,” followed by a clown emoji.

As Trump was ranting about crime rates and so-called election integrity issues in his meeting with House Republicans on Thursday, the former president called Milwaukee “horrible,” according to a source in the room.

The Trump campaign pushed back on the characterization of his remarks.

“He never said it like how it’s been falsely characterized as. He was talking about how terrible crime and voter fraud are,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said Thursday on social media.

The Democratic billboards feature Trump’s comment as reported by Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman, who broke the news Thursday. Sherman posted on social media that Trump had said: “Milwaukee, where we are having our convention, is a horrible city.”

The comment quickly gained traction in Wisconsin, a state that has been among the most competitive in presidential elections in recent years. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s banner headline Friday featured the remark.

“Trump: Milwaukee ‘horrible,’” it read.

Milwaukee is a Democratic stronghold — one that Trump and his allies have long cited, without evidence, as a city rife with election fraud. Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — the so-called “WOW counties” — have long formed a red collar around the blue city. However, the suburban portions of those counties have mirrored national shifts during the Trump era, with Democrats making gains that have eaten into those counties’ previously huge Republican margins.

Trump is set to visit Racine, Wisconsin, for a campaign event next week, where he could address the reports about his closed-doors remarks about Milwaukee.

Some Republican lawmakers who were present denied hearing Trump’s comment.

“No, that is not at all what I heard,” Florida Rep. Cory Mills said Friday on “CNN This Morning.”

He said multiple GOP members of Congress were present and did not agree with that account.

“None of us heard that,” Mills said, explaining that it was possible the word “horrible” was used in a different context.

Republican Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, who was in the room Thursday, made clear to CNN that Trump was “specifically referring to crime in Milwaukee” and not the city itself.

Johnson, the Milwaukee mayor, told CNN that the city was pulling itself “out of issues around crime that raged after the pandemic.”

CNN’s Kaanita Iyer, Melanie Zanona and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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