Donald Trump tangled with the dean of conservative Wisconsin talk radio on Monday, enduring a harsh grilling as he prepared to campaign in the state ahead of its upcoming primary.
Milwaukee-based radio show host Charlie Sykes, an influential voice for local Republicans, pressed Trump on a range of issues, including whether he should apologize to Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, whom he mocked on Twitter last week. Trump indicated he was simply retweeting a message from a supporter who had posted an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz next to a glamorous shot of Trump's model wife, Melania.
"Is your standard that if a supporter does something despicable, that it's OK for you, a candidate for president of the United States, to behave that same way?" Sykes asked. "I mean, I expect that from a 12 year-old bully on the playground, not somebody who wants the office held by Abraham Lincoln."
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Sykes said he hoped Trump realized that "here in Wisconsin we value things like civility, decency and actual conservative principles" and asked him to declare that wives would be off limit in the discourse ahead of the April 5 primary. Trump said he would be in favor of that but said that he would not apologize until Cruz first said he was sorry for the ad his supporters ran in Utah featuring a photo of a partially clad Melania Trump that had originally appeared in GQ magazine.
Cruz has said he knew nothing about the ad, which was published by a Super PAC that backed him. That did not satisfy Trump.
"I didn't start, he started it. If he didn't start it, it never would have happened," said Trump Monday morning. He added that while he does "believe in apologizing" he wouldn't do so until Cruz did first.
"My views are not playground views," Trump said.
The Wisconsin primary is shaping up to be a key moment in the Republican nomination, as a solid Cruz win would narrow Trump's path to the nomination and increase the likelihood of a contested convention this summer. Cruz — who has recently picked up a wave of Republican establishment support — has been criss-crossing the state and has begun airing $500,000 in ads.
That Trump appeared with Sykes at all was somewhat surprising.
Sykes, who has close ties to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, endorsed Cruz last week and warmly hosted the Texas Senator on his show. Sykes also has backed the #NeverTrump movement, which calls for Republicans to support anyone but the celebrity businessman, a revelation that caught Trump off guard near the end of the 17-minute interview.
Trump admitted he — and his campaign — did not know of Sykes' opposition, but said he assumed the radio host is "an intelligent guy" who would "give me credit where credit is due." Sykes said he would, but then asked one last time for an apology. Trump declined.
Trump faced similar skepticism during two more interviews with conservative state radio hosts later in the day. But Cruz, speaking at a Wisconsin rally hours later, praised Sykes for his "conservative leadership" and claimed that "the American people are sick" of candidates making personal attacks.
"Who cares?" Cruz asked. "Who cares what Donald is tweeting late at night? We need real solutions for the real problems in this country."