Democrats look to use Donald Trump’s ‘horrible city’ comment as rallying cry 

DNC launches billboards across Milwaukee with 'horrible city' quote

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at the Waukesha County Expo Center in Waukesha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

After former President Donald Trump reportedly called Milwaukee — the host city for the 2024 Republican National Convention — a “horrible city,” Democrats are attempting to use his comment as a rallying cry. 

Trump made the comment during a meeting with U.S. House Republicans Thursday, just days before he’s set to come to Wisconsin to make a campaign stop in Racine. The news of the former President’s remark, first reported by Punchbowl News, led to a flurry of responses from across the nation. 

Democrats have since launched a billboard campaign in response to the quote in an effort to win back the White House for President Joe Biden, while Republicans have claimed Trump was talking about crime and the election.

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“I thought it was just another thing where he was wrong,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said in an interview with WPR Friday.

Johnson said he’s looking forward to proving Trump wrong during the RNC, which will take place in Milwaukee July 15-18.

“As Republicans from across the country, and media outlets from around the world, descend on Milwaukee, they’ll see how great of a city Milwaukee is,” Johnson said.

The Fiserv Forum has signage for the debate on the walls.
Reporters are set up outside of the Fiserv Forum before the Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

During a press conference Thursday morning, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said he also “can’t wait to really prove (Trump) wrong.”

“It is my hope that not only our former president, but everyone who’s going to be embarking on Milwaukee, sees everything that we have to offer,” Crowley said.

The Democratic National Committee announced its billboard campaign Friday. The DNC will roll out ten new billboards across Milwaukee with Trump’s quote on it.

“Trump hates Milwaukee because Milwaukeeans know exactly who he is — a sore loser who they’re going to make a two-time loser this November,” DNC spokesperson Addy Toevs said in a statement. 

President Joe Biden narrowly won Wisconsin in 2020. He took Milwaukee County, a democratic stronghold, by getting nearly 70 percent of the vote. 

On X, Biden posted a photo of him holding a Milwaukee Bucks jersey when the Bucks visited the White House after winning the NBA Championship in 2021.

“I happen to love Milwaukee,” Biden wrote.

Biden’s campaign is also now selling a shirt that says “(Not) a horrible city” on the front.

Trump, Republicans say comment was taken out of context

Since news of Trump’s remark broke Thursday, the former president and his allies have argued he was talking about specific issues in Milwaukee.

“President Trump was explicitly referring to the problems in Milwaukee, specifically violent crime and voter fraud,” read a statement from Trump’s campaign.

Trump also addressed his comments during a Fox News interview Thursday.

“I think it was very clear what I meant, I said we’re very concerned with crime,” Trump said in the interview. “I love Milwaukee, I have great friends in Milwaukee. But, as you know, the crime numbers are terrible, we have to be very careful.” 

Trump also said in the interview he was referring to the election, and “the ballots” and “the way it went down,” alluding to false claims he’s made over the past few years that he won Wisconsin in 2020.

The state’s Republican congressional delegation also gave similar explanations, although they weren’t initially on the same page.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, initially said on social media that “President Trump did not say this” when news of Trump’s “horrible city” comment initially broke.

But Steil later told WISN-TV that Trump was talking about “specific issues” in the city of Milwaukee, referencing the city’s crime rate and public school system.

In an interview with WISN-12, U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Clyman, said he believed Trump was talking about voter fraud.

“What he was talking about was the elections in Milwaukee. They’re concerned about them,” Fitzgerald said in the interview.

In a post on X, U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Prairie du Chien, said Trump was “specifically referring to … the CRIME RATE in Milwaukee.” 

Homicides in Milwaukee are down 41 percent this year compared to two years ago and 20 percent lower than the same time last year, according to crime data from the Milwaukee Police Department. Nonfatal shootings are also down this year compared to last year, along with motor vehicle thefts, thefts and aggravated assault.

But burglaries, robberies and carjackings are up this year compared to last year, according to crime data Friday.