Wisconsin Public Radio

Vukmir, Nicholson Debate, Both Back Trump

Neither criticized anything president has done, no major disagreements between candidates.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jul 27th, 2018 11:42 am
Kevin Nicholson and Sen. Leah Vukmir.

Kevin Nicholson and Sen. Leah Vukmir.

The top Republican candidates for U.S. Senate both declined to name any areas where they disagree with President Donald Trump at a Thursday night debate, saying Trump needs to be given room to negotiate.

Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir were both asked repeatedly whether there were issues where they’d push back against Trump. Both declined to name any.

“I’m not going to fall into the trap,” said Nicholson, praising Trump’s positions on tax cuts and foreign policy. “The president’s done good work, and we should applaud him for it.”

“He’s standing for our country,” Vukmir said of Trump, praising the president’s Supreme Court nominees and support for the military. “He’s doing exactly what he promised.”

Trump has not endorsed either candidate in the race, which polls suggest is a dead heat.

Both candidates were asked specifically about Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, which have led to retaliatory tariffs from other nations on American goods. Milwaukee motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc. has blamed the tariffs for its decision to move some production overseas while Wisconsin farmers say the tariffs have already driven down their prices and could threaten their businesses.

Vukmir was asked what she’d say to farmers who feel like they’re caught in the middle of the trade war and are worried for their future. She said the farmers she spoke to were taking a “wait and see” approach with Trump.

“They really believe that President Donald Trump is listening to them,” Vukmir said. “I’m going to work very hard to make sure that our president has the support that he needs. He needs the support of people who are going to say, ‘You know what? You are a great businessman.'”

Nicholson was asked whether Trump’s trade war was causing permanent damage to Wisconsin business owner and farmers.

“No I do not believe that, because it is not,” Nicholson said. “What the president is doing is saying to our negotiating partners, ‘Come back to the negotiating table and let’s actually get to a world without tariffs.'”

Both Nicholson and Vukmir have said there’s little that separates them when it comes to policy, choosing instead to stress their backgrounds as the reason they should be elected.

Nicholson has played up his Marine service, running as a “political outsider.” Vukmir has emphasized her experience in the state Legislature and her endorsements from the State Republican Party and GOP officeholders like U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

They were both asked at the outset of the debate why they were more conservative than their opponent.

“Conservatism isn’t just what we do in government or politics,” Nicholson said. “It’s about living a full life.”

“I stood shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Scott Walker as we broke the stranglehold of public sector unions,” Vukmir said. “We stood for conservative ideas.”

When asked about reproductive rights, both candidates stressed their opposition to abortions, saying they believed their views were backed up by the U.S. Constitution.

“I will stand for nominees to the Supreme Court who also will look to that Constitution, that document that upholds life,” Vukmir said.

Nicholson said he believed life began at conception and called the U.S. Constitution a pro-life document.

“It says in there, your rights are given to you by God,” Nicholson said. “It does not say at which week that begins.”

Nicholson, who was raised a Democrat and was active in Democratic politics in college, was also asked about his speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention when he said a woman’s right to choose must be protected.

“I should have known better,” Nicholson said. “But I wasn’t raised in a pro-life family. I had to go and live life to figure this out.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bainum issued a statement after the debate saying the contrast between Republicans and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin couldn’t be any clearer.

“While Tammy Baldwin does right by Wisconsin — whether it’s standing up to the president of her own party or working with the president of the opposing party — Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson would be rubber stamps for Donald Trump’s agenda and work for the corporate special interests and billionaires bankrolling their campaigns,” Bainum said.

Longshot Candidates Also Debate

The last 30 minutes of the hour-and-a-half debate also included three lesser-known Republican candidates for U.S. Senate: Charles Barman, Griffin Jones and George Lucia.

Lucia, who said he worked 56 years as a machinist, also praised Trump, but said there were aspects of Trump’s approach that made him uncomfortable.

“I’m uncomfortable with his rhetoric,” Lucia said. “I think that he goes overboard sometimes … however, I always know where President Trump stands.”

Jones, who is an insurance underwriter, hinted at the huge financial backers benefiting the GOP primary’s frontrunners, with Illinois GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein supporting Nicholson and Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks supporting Vukmir.

“The only way to drain the swamp is to get rid of people that have political and monetary connections to it,” Jones said. “I have none.”

Barman, who wore a long, gray scraggly beard and a sleeveless shirt on the debate stage, criticized Nicholson for his support from National Security Advisor John Bolton, saying Bolton’s work in George W. Bush‘s administration was partly to blame for the U.S. War in Iraq. Barman also criticized Vukmir for her establishment GOP connections.

“She’s backed by Paul Ryan, she’s backed by Scott Walker,” Barman said. “They did not endorse Donald Trump.”

Walker has not formally endorsed Vukmir, but his wife, Tonette Walker, has. Their son, Alex Walker, works for Vukmir’s campaign.

Walker and Ryan were slow to embrace Trump in 2016 but now regularly sing his praises.

The debate was held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and sponsored by a media coalition that included WTMJ-TV and WUWM-FM.

The primary election is August 14.

Nicholson, Vukmir, Decline To Criticize Trump At GOP US Senate Debate was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

3 thoughts on “Vukmir, Nicholson Debate, Both Back Trump”

  1. PMD says:

    She lies about riots which never happened. She poses with a gun in her TV ad. Sad that this is how you reach GOP voters these days. And she brags about courageously standing with Walker and is afraid to share a single criticism og Trump. These two are clowns unfit for public office. My kid would make a better U.S. Senator.

  2. A PRIRE says:

    A NO-BRAINER all around!
    To say more is also a …

  3. Terry says:


    Dump em both! No more crazy extremist republicans in Wisconsin!

    Dump Walker
    Legalize cannabis
    Pave the damn roads!

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