In Wisconsin’s Republican presidential primary, whether you’re with Gov. Scott Walker has become an unlikely fault line.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is linking his fortunes to Walker, the state’s second-term governor and most high-profile Republican. Walker endorsed Cruz earlier this week, has filmed a TV ad on his behalf and vowed to campaign statewide with him in the lead-up to Tuesday’s primary.

National GOP front-runner Donald Trump has taken the opposite tack. At stops in Wisconsin earlier in the week, Trump slammed Walker’s leadership in Wisconsin and ridiculed his showing in the GOP presidential race, boasting on a radio show that “we sent him packing like a little boy” when Walker exited the race in September.

Walker, speaking to reporters Friday, predicted Trump’s attacks may backfire.

“I think it’s a high-risk proposition,” Walker said.

Trump owes his political success, in part, to a scathing anti-establishment message. He has rocketed to the head of the GOP presidential fray by criticizing current elected officials as incompetent and clueless.

Trump leads Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in national polls, though he trails Cruz in recent polls in Wisconsin.

But Barry Burden, a political scientist at UW-Madison, said it’s unprecedented for a presidential front-runner to come into Wisconsin and assail a governor who’s a nationally prominent member of the same party.

At a rally in Janesville on Tuesday, Trump cited a list of facts about Wisconsin’s budget and workforce to criticize Walker’s stewardship of the state. Several were debunked by fact-checkers, such as his inaccurate claim that the state’s effective unemployment rate is 20 percent.

“Am I going to say he’s doing a great job? He’s not doing a great job,” Trump said of Walker.

Burden predicted Trump’s attack on Walker may be a misstep if he hopes to carry the state next week. He noted the governor remains widely popular among Wisconsin Republicans, even as his approval with independent voters has slipped. The latest Marquette Law School poll had Walker earning 80 percent favorability among self-identified Republicans.

“It looks like Trump is on the wrong side of this,” Burden said.

Walker predicted Friday that Wisconsin Republican primary voters won’t warm to Trump’s decision to pan his leadership in Wisconsin.

“They know that those attacks just aren’t accurate,” Walker said. “Voters here are highly informed. They know what the facts are. They know what good, common-sense conservative leadership looks like.”

Also Friday, Walker declined to dismiss the possibility of joining Cruz’s ticket as a vice presidential candidate, calling the question “pretty premature.” He ruled out the possibility of accepting a Cabinet post in a potential Cruz presidential administration.

Walker previewed a full slate of events he expects to attend on Cruz’s behalf. Walker said he would stump for Cruz in Milwaukee County and Winnebago County on Friday night. He added he’ll make stops for Cruz this weekend in Appleton, Green Bay, Wausau and the Chippewa Valley, followed by visits to Madison and southeast Wisconsin on Monday.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.