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Wisconsin GOP Leaders Warm To Trump As Convention Kicks Off

Walker, Ryan, Thompson Will Be In Attendance In Cleveland

Shawn Johnson/WPR

The Republican National Convention begins Monday in Cleveland and culminates this Thursday with the all-but-certain presidential nomination of Donald Trump.

Trump wasn’t the first choice of many Republicans, especially in Wisconsin, but more and more state GOP leaders seem to be warming to his candidacy.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson has attended every GOP convention for the last 40 years, but he said this will be his last. Thompson still remembers the 1976 convention when future President Ronald Reagan tried and failed to take the nomination from President Gerald Ford.

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“I saw fistfights on the floor,” he recalled. “I saw the chairman of the Republican Party in New York pull off the telephone and hit another delegate on the side of the head with a telephone. And nobody knew exactly who was going to win the nomination.”

Thompson said this year’s convention will also be memorable because nobody quite knows what’s going to happen with Trump. But he doesn’t expect fistfights like four decades ago and he doesn’t expect the drama.

“There’s not the mystery of who’s going to come out of the convention as the nominee,” said Thompson. “It’s Donald Trump who’s going to be the nominee.”

Thompson wasn’t always convinced of that. He initially backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican primary. When Bush dropped out, he switched his allegiance to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Even now, Thompson admits Trump has said things that embarrass him. But he said this election is a choice between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I think it’s a very easy call. And between those two choices, I’m enthusiastically in favor of Donald Trump,” he said.

That line of reasoning grew more common in recent weeks as the convention drew near and efforts to nominate someone else lost steam.

It’s easy to forget that just a few months ago, some thought U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan might try to oust Trump in a contested convention. And since then, the Janesville Republican has criticized Trump regularly. For example, after Trump posted a picture on Twitter that the Clinton campaign said was anti-Semitic: “Look, anti-Semitic images, they’ve got no place in a presidential campaign, candidates should know that.”

And after Trump said a judge hearing a lawsuit against him couldn’t be fair because his parents were Mexican: “Finding a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No I do not.”

Clinton, Ryan has said, is someone he could never support. He endorsed Trump in June.

Gov. Scott Walker promised long before then that he would support the eventual Republican nominee. But Walker hinted at his dislike of Trump from the moment he ended his own presidential campaign last September.

“I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on the limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current frontrunner,” he said during his campaign suspension announcement.

Even after Trump all but cinched the nomination, Walker rarely if ever referred to him by name. He said recently he thought delegates to the national convention should be allowed to vote their conscience, which emboldened Trump critics.

But last week, Walker’s tone changed. Not only was he criticizing Hillary Clinton, he was complimenting Donald Trump.

“I think there’s a clear contrast between Hillary Clinton, who would be more of the same, and would be connected to the elite establishment in Washington, versus Donald Trump who I think is willing to take on that establishment,: Walker said.

Thompson, Ryan and Walker will all attend the Republican National Convention. Ryan and Walker are scheduled to speak. There are still divisions here, with some Wisconsin Republicans insisting they’ll never vote for Trump. But the state’s top Republican leaders are coming around.