Wisconsin Republicans scrambled Tuesday to distance themselves from their party’s presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, and his plan to block all Muslims from entering the U.S.
House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed Trump’s comments, saying such views are “not what this party stands for and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
Congressman Reid Ribble and state Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke went further, saying they would not back Trump if he is the GOP nominee for president.
“It’d be like somebody asking me if I could support (Democratic candidate) Bernie Sanders,” Steineke, R-Kaukauna, told theWisconsin State Journal.
Steineke has endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Ribble, R-Sherwood, called Trump’s remarks “un-American.”
“Our entire founding was built on the freedom of religious expression,” said Ribble, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate.
Other state Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Oshkosh, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, signaled Tuesday that they disagree with Trump.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker — who abandoned his own presidential bid in September — tweeted Tuesday morning that “Many of our first settlers fled to America for religious liberty. We should stand for it today.” The tweet didn’t say if it was referring to Trump, and Walker’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Trump, who has led most national Republican presidential polls for months, on Monday called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of terror attacks at home and abroad.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Trump proposes to enforce such a ban, which many constitutional scholars described as unconstitutional. Others, including many of Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nod, described the proposal as an affront to America’s tradition of religious liberty and pluralism.
Ryan addressed Trump’s remarks Tuesday without mentioning his name.
Ryan said he doesn’t normally comment on the presidential race — a stance he maintained in a Monday interview with the State Journal, in which he declined to answer questions about Trump’s candidacy.
On Tuesday, Ryan made an exception.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle ... This is not conservatism what was proposed yesterday,” Ryan said. “Some of our best and biggest allies in this struggle and fight against radical Islamic terror are Muslims, the vast, vast, vast majority of whom are peaceful.”
The campaign of Johnson, who is seeking re-election next year, issued a statement through spokesman Brian Reisinger.
“This is not a serious or well-thought-out policy proposal,” Reisinger said. “We’ve always been a country with a big heart, and we don’t need a religious test to fix our immigration problems.”
Johnson has not endorsed a presidential candidate.
Johnson’s likely opponent in the 2016 election, Democrat Russ Feingold, blasted Trump in a Facebook post, saying, “Trump’s hateful and prejudicial words are dangerous and have no place in this great country.”
A spokeswoman for Sensenbrenner, told the State Journal in an email that “the Congressman does not agree with Trump’s comments.”
Priebus, of Kenosha, also told the Washington Examiner, “I don’t agree” with Trump’s plan.
“We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values,” Priebus said.
The Democratic National Committee ripped Priebus in a statement for what it called an insufficiently critical and “cowardly” response to Trump.
For some Republicans, it was clear that denouncing Trump’s latest remarks didn’t translate to total disavowal.
Asked if he will support Trump if he is his party’s presidential nominee, Ryan said he will support whomever the Republicans nominate for the presidency. Johnson also has said he will support the GOP nominee, Reisinger said.
Some Wisconsin Republicans have waded into controversy with their past pronouncements on Muslim-related topics.
Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, tweeted in September that he agreed with GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim should not be president. Kapenga later deleted the tweet.
Walker drew criticism during his presidential run for saying there are a “handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam.”