Kevin Nicholson, the Marine veteran and businessman seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018, is supportive of President Donald Trump's decision to reinstate a ban on transgender people serving in the military, as long as it's based on advice from generals.
"If they come through with the advice and say that this is the best thing for the United States military for both mission accomplishment and troops' welfare … I think it’s good advice to take," Nicholson said in an interview.
The 39-year-old Delafield Republican announced the launch of his Senate campaign on Wednesday, introducing himself as a "conservative outsider" who will "take the fight" to Washington, D.C.
Nicholson served combat tours in Iraq in 2007 and in Afghanistan in 2008-2009. He earned the Bronze Star for his leadership of a counter-improvised explosive device (IED) team in Afghanistan. His service has influenced his decision to run for office, he has said, calling the nation's nearly $20 trillion national debt "the greatest threat to our national security."
"On all these kind of matters, having been in uniform, my attitude is this: politicians and elected officials should take the advice of the generals that run the military seriously," Nicholson said, adding that every general's primary goals are to accomplish their mission and to take care of the people under their command.
Trump announced his plans to reverse a decision approved by the Department of Defense under President Barack Obama in a series of tweets Wednesday morning. The decision, made in 2016, was under a one-year review period to allow for a gradual implementation.
Trump's decision was made "after consultations with my Generals and military experts," he tweeted.
"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," Trump said.
Transgender people will not be allowed to serve "in any capacity" in the military, Trump said.
The decision earned rebuke from some members of Congress, including military veterans. Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, 20-year military veteran and member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, said she doesn't believe taxpayers should pay for gender reassignment surgery, but anyone who is "qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity."
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a 23-year Navy veteran, said there is "no reason" to force service members to leave the military based on their gender identity.
"We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are," McCain said in a statement.
Nicholson's position also sets him apart from Baldwin — a contrast Trump and his administration hope will work against the first-term senator, according to Axios reporter Jonathan Swan.
A Trump administration official told Swan the ban would force "Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue."
A spokesman for Baldwin's campaign directed questions to her Senate office, which deferred to a series of tweets she posted on the matter.
"A ban against any patriotic American who wants to serve our country is wrong," Baldwin wrote. "We shouldn't discriminate anyone who wants to serve."
According to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, about 2,450 of the military's 1.3 million active-duty members are transgender. The study found that allowing transgender people to serve openly would "have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs" for the Pentagon.