- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said Friday that he’s “sympathetic with someone like Mr. Trump” and wants to give the presumptive Republican presidential nominee time to get smart on policy issues before pressuring others in the party to endorse him.

Johnson has endorsed Donald Trump, while other Republicans both in Wisconsin and nationally have shown more reticence. Johnson spoke to The Associated Press before the kickoff Friday night of the state Republican Party convention, which will focus largely on the senator’s re-election campaign against Democrat Russ Feingold. But Republicans’ struggles with accepting, or rejecting, Trump hang heavy over the meeting taking place in Green Bay.

Johnson, who defeated Feingold in 2010 in his first run for political office, said because he came from the business world he identifies with Trump as he tries to get smart on policy issues. For that reason, Johnson said it may take time for some Republicans to warm to Trump.

“It’s a different dynamic when you’re in the private sector, when you’re an entertainer versus, now, the presumptive nominee of a major political party in America,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden you enter this political realm where there are all kinds of complex policy issues.”

Johnson said Trump should be given time to get the necessary briefings and have discussions with Republicans. Trump was doing just that on Thursday, making the rounds in Washington including a much ballyhooed sit-down with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who like Johnson is also from Wisconsin. Ryan was scheduled to speak Saturday night at the convention but his comments were not open to the press.

Johnson said he spoke with Ryan about his meeting with Trump and delivered a simple message: “”Unify, unify, unify, agree, agree, agree.”

“That’s the goal right now,” Johnson said. “Let’s find the areas of agreement so we can unify this party. That’s it.”

Some other Wisconsin Republicans - most notably Gov. Scott Walker and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - have publicly endorsed Trump. Walker’s backing came after he endorsed and campaigned for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz - who defeated Trump by 13 points in Wisconsin’s primary on April 5.

But other Wisconsin Republicans and influential conservatives, including conservative talk radio hosts who led the #nevertrump movement in the state, haven’t been as quick to get behind Trump.

Johnson said unifying the party “doesn’t happen overnight.”

“From my standpoint that’s going to be a process over a number of weeks,” he said. “Because we share the primary goals - economic growth, strengthening the military, defeating ISIS, securing the border - the areas of disagreement I think will be less important than the things we agree on.”

The Johnson-Feingold rematch is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, with Democrats hoping to pick up the seat as they try to regain majority control of the Senate. Polls have shown Feingold leading Johnson, and Democrats hope their traditionally high turnout in the presidential election will push Feingold to victory.

Feingold spokesman Michael Tyler said Johnson’s comments indicate that he “seems to ‘appreciate’ the bluntness of Trump’s racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric and appears happy to join the insider Washington Republicans who are falling in line behind the Republican nominee.”

Despite Trump’s loss in Wisconsin’s primary, together with reluctance from some Republicans to back him so far, Johnson said he wasn’t worried about it having a negative effect on his race against Feingold.

“I think it’s completely unpredictable,” Johnson said.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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