Appearing on the Jay Weber show on WISN-AM on Tuesday, Republican candidate for Senate Kevin Nicholson responded to criticism from former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the National Republican Committee. Priebus made the remarks on Monday’s show while announcing his endorsement of state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield).
Nicholson dismissed the significance of Priebus’ endorsement of Vukmir, saying he would rather have the endorsement of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
“I appreciate that probably some backers of Leah Vukmir probably leaned on Reince pretty hard to get out and say some pretty silly things on your show yesterday,” Nicholson said. “I didn’t hear directly, but I heard the reports from my wife and, fascinating stuff. I heard he called the 20 years since I was president of the College Democrats of America my quote-unquote in-between years and they were too short and insignificant.”
Priebus actually began his remarks about Nicholson by saying, “I appreciate his service. We all do.”
“I just happen to believe that, if you want to be chair of the Wisconsin state party, you probably ought to do something in the county,” Priebus said. “You probably ought to do something in the congressional district. Maybe you ought to raise a few dollars for the state party before you become chairman and show people.”
Priebus then turned from the hypothetical to directly addressing Nicholson’s situation as the former President of the College Democrats nationally.
“You say, yeah, well, okay fine, you had a conversion. I say that’s great. So welcome to the Republican Party. I have no problem with that,” Priebus said. “But when you go from president of the College Democrats to wanting to be the U.S. Senator for the Republican Party, I think there should be some in-between time.”
“And that particular case, to say, maybe you ought to raise a few dollars for Paul Ryan’s group,” Priebus said. “Maybe you ought to raise a few dollars for the party or maybe you ought to volunteer for Ron Johnson a little bit and show us that this conversion is actually real.”
Priebus said that while he had no problem supporting Johnson even though he “came from nowhere,” Priebus pointed out that Johnson was giving speeches to Tea Party gatherings before deciding to run for the Senate.
“In this case, I just find it all too convenient, all too contrived, and I just don’t buy it,” Priebus said.
When Weber asked Nicholson about Priebus’ criticism saying that Nicholson has not been active in Republican politics since his political conversion in 2008, Nicholson said that during that time he got married and fought in two wars with the U.S. Marines.
“And my apologies to Reince, they don’t have Republican Party conventions in Iraq or Afghanistan, so you can’t attend them there,” Nicholson said. “But having three kids and six plus years working in an industry in incredibly demanding jobs working on some of toughest problems that companies have across the country, I was also writing checks to Scott Walker and Ron Johnson and recalled Republicans back in 2011 when I was in grad school on a grad student’s salary.”
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign website, Nicholson shows donating to Walker and former state Sen. Dan Kapanke who was recalled. Nicholson also donated to Johnson in 2015.
“It’s a little frustrating to hear a former chair of the party who seems to try to shrink it rather than grow it,” Nicholson said. Nicholson said he also remembers putting up yard signs for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008.
Weber also took the opportunity to ask Nicholson about Club for Growth calling Vukmir a RINO (Republican In Name Only).
“Yeah, it’s not language I’ve ever used or ever would use,” Nicholson said. “What I said Jay, you’ve heard me say it to you directly, and probably elsewhere, it’s going to take an outsider to win this election. I firmly believe that.”
When pressed again by Weber to repudiate what Club for Growth said, Nicholson said, “I’ll say it wasn’t the right language to use. I’m perfectly comfortable saying that. I have no problem saying that. I also can’t control them.”
“I will say this, Jay. Now that I’ve said that, I hope when Leah Vukmir comes onto your show, you will hold her to account for the fact that she has sent out fundraising emails directly from her that I have no principles and don’t believe in anything,” Nicholson said. “And that Reince Priebus, her booster, got on your show and said that the 20 years I’ve spent since I was in college don’t really count for anything when I spent a fair amount of that time in the service of my country fighting in two wars.”
You can listen to Jay Weber’s interview of Nicholson here:
You can listen to Jay Weber’s interview of Priebus here: