BROOKFIELD, WISCONSIN – Donald Trump, turning his focus to Wisconsin even as another controversy cast a shadow over his campaign, said Tuesday he will no longer honor his pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
And his two Republican rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also refused to say they would support Trump or whoever is the eventual nominee.
Wisconsin’s primary next Tuesday is shaping up as pivotal in the Republican race. Should Cruz win, it will narrow Trump’s already tight path to the nomination and raise the prospect of a contested convention in July in Cleveland where delegates might turn to other candidates should the real estate mogul fail to win on the first ballot.
All three Republicans appeared separately at a CNN town hall meeting in Milwaukee a week before Wisconsin’s primary. Both Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also campaigned in the Midwestern state.
Trump said he was rescinding his promise to back the Republican nominee because “I have been treated very unfairly.” He listed the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party and the party establishment among those he believes have wronged him.
Kasich and Cruz also refused to say whether they will stand by the pledge.
“If the nominee is somebody I think is really hurting the country, and dividing the country, I can’t stand behind them,” Kasich said. Cruz refused to commit to backing Trump, saying if the billionaire businessman were the nominee it would hand the election to Clinton.
Trump also said he thinks the top roles of the U.S. government include security, health care and education, even though he has called for eliminating the Department of Education.
Trump arrived in Wisconsin while fending off another controversy.
His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with misdemeanor battery in Florida on Tuesday over an altercation with a female reporter earlier this month, prompting Cruz to accuse the front-runner of fostering a culture of “abusive behavior.”
Trump heads into Wisconsin with 739 delegates to Cruz’s 465. Kasich lags behind with 143. Wisconsin has 42 Republican delegates, with 18 going to the statewide winner and 24 divided among the winners in each of the state’s eight congressional districts
Trump told supporters at a rally that “if we win Wisconsin, it’s pretty much over,” noting his significant delegate lead over both Cruz and Kasich. Trump held the rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan — who last week called for more civility in politics even as the Republican presidential race grew more personal and nasty.
Cruz, speaking at the town hall, said his focus is on winning the Republican nomination — either by getting the 1,237 delegates necessary by the end of the primary season or capturing it at the Republican National Convention in July.
“We are competing to win,” Cruz said. “We’re not competing to stop Donald Trump. … Donald is not going to be the GOP nominee. We’re going to beat him.”
While Trump dealt with questions about the Lewandowski charges, Cruz picked up support from some of the state’s most influential voices. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former Republican presidential contender, endorsed Cruz on Tuesday, saying he believes the Texas senator is best positioned to win the party’s nomination and defeat Clinton.
In an interview on Milwaukee’s WTMJ radio, Walker noted Cruz’s fights in Congress with both Republicans and Democrats. “This is a guy who has been consistent in his positions and, when push comes to shove, will stand up for the people he represents over the interests in Washington,” Walker said.
Also campaigning in Milwaukee was Clinton, who vowed to curb gun violence. Clinton’s campaign forum grew emotional as family members spoke of losing children. The Democratic presidential candidate said she will “keep talking about this throughout this campaign” and will “keep talking about it and acting on it” if she wins the White House.
Clinton also lashed out at Trump over the controversy surrounding his campaign manager, saying that “ultimately the responsibility is Mr. Trump’s.”
Sanders zeroed in on voter identification laws at a town hall in Appleton. Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which went into effect this year, is one of the most restrictive in the country. Supporters say it helps guard against election fraud, but opponents contend it suppresses the votes of young people and minorities who are more likely to lack the required government-issued ID documents.
After sweeping three Western state primaries over the weekend, Sanders is hoping to trim Clinton’s commanding lead in the delegate count and claim momentum with a victory in Wisconsin, but still remains a decided underdog in the battle for the Democratic nomination.
Based on primaries and caucuses to date, Clinton has 1,243 delegates to Sanders’ 975. Including superdelegates, party leaders who are free to support any candidate, Clinton has 1,712 delegates to Sanders’ 1,004, leaving her shy of the 2,383 it takes to win the nomination.