Trump return to Wisconsin is first since voters learn he downplayed threat of pandemic

MADISON – President Donald Trump’s return to Wisconsin this week was his first since voters learned he deliberately downplayed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and is accused of disparaging fallen soldiers.  

The news could prove consequential in a battleground state where Trump or his vice president are now visiting weekly to hang on to 2016 fortunes that were delivered by the Badger State. 

Members of the state’s federal delegation have so far mostly been quiet about revelations included in veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book “Rage,” which quotes Trump saying he deliberately misled the public about the threat and risks of the pandemic.

Democratic House members Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan said Trump’s actions were “shocking” and “unthinkable.” Fellow Democratic Rep. Ron Kind did not have a reaction as of last week, according to an aide.  

On the Republican side, just U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson reacted to the news — siding with the president’s decision to keep the severity of the virus threat from the public.

“I’d argued since day one that we put this in proper perspective: I have not been in favor of these overall shutdowns, (they) have been devastating to the economy, devastating to people’s health in other ways,” Johnson told CNN reporter Manu Raju last week. 

“It’s been a difficult thing to manage, and I’ve tried not to be critical of any government officials having to make really tough decisions with imperfect information,” he said. “So I understand what he’s saying. I don’t think it’s an illegitimate point to make.”

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Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Tom Tiffany, Jim Sensenbrenner and Bryan Steil did not respond last week to questions about the Woodward reporting. 

Moore, a Democrat from Milwaukee, said Americans “have paid for his apathy with their lives.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Trump’s response to the pandemic has been a “failure of leadership.”

“Since this public health crisis started, Trump has had no national testing plan and he has never had a plan to provide Wisconsin with the testing supplies and personal protective equipment we need,” Baldwin said. “For him to pretend this pandemic would simply disappear has had deadly results.”

Anna Kelly, spokeswoman for Trump, said earlier this month that the president “is leading the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to stop the spread of a foreign virus in modern history.”

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She pointed to more than $10 million Wisconsin received to combat the pandemic in the state. 

Just 41% of Wisconsin voters approve of the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent Marquette University Law School polling. Disapproval stands at 56% in September.

The regional breakdown of where support lies for Trump and opponent Joe Biden is following historic patterns, with Biden holding leads in the city of Milwaukee and the Madison media market, and Trump leading in areas of metro Milwaukee outside the city.

The race is tight in the Green Bay area while Trump leads in the north and western parts of the state.

Reports on attitude toward troops draw reaction

Reactions to reports by The Atlantic, Associated Press and Washington Post alleging Trump held disdain for fallen soldiers drew more reaction from the federal delegation. 

“It goes without saying that anyone who served in uniform, and certainly those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, deserve our utmost respect,” said Gallagher, who is a former United States Marine Corps intelligence officer.

“The President has gone on the record and vehemently denied the accusations made against him, and if anyone has to say anything to the contrary, they should go on the record as well.”

Gallagher said in his experience as a veteran and the state’s only member on the House Armed Services Committee, Trump “has prioritized our men and women in uniform, especially in his willingness to rebuild the military” after years of cuts and has awarded pay raises to service members and other benefits to soldiers returning home.  

Tiffany called the reporting “source-less” because none are identified by name. 

“Multiple people who were present during the trip, including John Bolton who can hardly be classified as a Trump supporter, said that he never heard the president say anything even close to resembling what the source-less Atlantic story claims, calling the allegations ‘simply false’ and ‘flatly wrong,'” he said in a statement. 

Tiffany also pointed to reporting disputing allegations made in The Atlantic that Trump nixed a trip in 2018 to a cemetery for American soldiers in France because of disgust for the war dead. The plans were canceled due to weather, according to reporting by Fox News that also included anonymous sources.  

Pocan said the comments reported by the media outlets were not surprising given his attitude toward the late GOP Sen. John McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam.

“In rare moments when he is not lying to the American public, Donald Trump shows us his true colors of disrespect and disregard for everything we hold sacred,” Pocan said. “He is unfit to be president, let alone commander-in-chief of a people he so publicly disparages.”

Kind said if are reports were true, “this is not the leadership our troops deserve.” 

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.