After the condemnation of former White House aide Steve Bannon by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Kevin Nicholson is still willing to embrace Bannon’s endorsement.
However, his opponent in the Republican primary, state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), called on Nicholson to repudiate the endorsement.
“It was incredibly disappointing to learn of these vicious attacks by Steve Bannon against the President and his family,” said Jess Ward, Vukmir’s spokesperson, in a statement Wednesday. “After the Alabama debacle, and now this, any self-respecting Republican should question whether Steve Bannon has any role in building our party. Kevin Nicholson should disavow his endorsement.”
When contacted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bill Glauber, Nicholson’s spokesperson Brandon Moody replied:
“It is disappointing that hours after Wisconsin Republicans joined together to sign a GOP Unity Pledge, that Leah Vukmir would take this moment to attack another Republican for an endorsement she herself aggressively sought.
“Leah spent a great deal of time and energy seeking Steve Bannon’s endorsement and was unsuccessful. It’s easy to see why she is frustrated. Meanwhile, Kevin Nicholson has built a broad and diverse coalition of supporters and endorsers and he is focused on talking about the issues that matter most to Wisconsin voters. That’s what strong and winning campaigns do.”
The unity pledge, sponsored by Senator Ron Johnson and the Republican Party of Wisconsin, was a promise by both candidates to support the party’s nominee after the August primary, not a pledge not to criticize each other or other political figures within the GOP.
The closest the statement comes to discussing the conduct of the campaigns in regards to each other is the second paragraph:
I further pledge that I will conduct my campaign in a manner that is respectful of my fellow Republican candidates and will focus on achieving victory in November, ensuring that whichever candidate earns the nomination is in the strongest position possible to defeat Senator Baldwin.
The only other promise in the unity pledge is to obey the rules of the convention.
When pressed for further comment by RightWisconsin, Nicholson’s campaign did not reply to emails sent to Nicholson and to his spokesman.
Nicholson was endorsed by Bannon and his Great America PAC in October after Nicholson pledged to vote for someone other than Senator Mitch McConnell as the Republican leader. Shortly after the endorsement, the Bannon-controlled Breitbart News attacked Vukmir in an article.
At the time of the endorsement, Nicholson’s campaign spokesman Michael Antonopolous (who has since left the campaign) said, “The conservative grassroots–and Americans across the board–strongly believe that career politicians aren’t getting the job done and that we need new leaders and fresh ideas in Washington. Kevin could not agree more.”
Nicholson himself Tweeted:
“The Steve Bannon primary in Wisconsin is over and Kevin Nicholson has won.” Humbled by this huge endorsement. (1/2)
— Kevin Nicholson (@KevinMNicholson) October 17, 2017
Bannon and Breitbart have attempted to play in Wisconsin politics before by enthusiastically backing, alt-Right candidate Paul Nehlen in his primary challenges against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) until very recently. In 2016. Ryan easily won with 84 percent of the vote against the racist panderer Nehlen.
The controversy comes at time when outside groups are playing even more of an influential role in the GOP Senate primary. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton’s Super PAC just announced a $1 million media spend in Wisconsin on Nicholson’s behalf.
In addition, the national Club for Growth recently defended its endorsement of Nicholson by attacking Vukmir’s record, including her votes for the 2011 and 2015 state budgets under Governor Scott Walker. This in turn brought strong criticism of Club for Growth by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). “These same bogus and false attacks could also be levied at Gov. Walker,” said ATR President Grover Norquist. “The good news is, Wisconsin voters are smart enough to see these attacks against Vukmir and Walker for what they are: lies.”
In a statement about the aforementioned unity pledge, Johnson warned of the influence of national groups on Wisconsin’s elections.
“We’ve all witnessed what happens when Washington, D.C.-based ‘political experts’ of all kinds get involved in U.S. Senate races,” Johnson said. “Here in Wisconsin, the grassroots have a track record of nominating candidates who reflect our values – not Washington’s – and we can do it again to defeat Tammy Baldwin this fall.”
Nicholson’s refusal to back away from the endorsement from Bannon is in contrast to the behavior of another GOP Senate candidate that received Bannon’s endorsement. CNN is reporting West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is in a primary against Rep. Evan Jenkins to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, criticized Bannon’s remarks about Trump’s family.
“Patrick Morrisey has been endorsed by many conservatives throughout West Virginia and America because of his strong conservative record. Attorney General Morrisey does not support these attacks on President Trump and his family, and was proud to stand with President Trump in 2016 when they were both overwhelmingly elected in West Virginia and when he cast his vote for Trump in the Electoral College,” Morrisey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said.
According to CNN, the statement from the Morrisey campaign came an hour after Jenkins said in a statement that Morrisey “should immediately disavow Bannon’s support.”
Trump said his former advisor, “lost his mind” and the president completely dismissed anything Bannon said about the Trump family in a new book about Trump’s campaign and administration.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.”