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PRESIDENTIAL PANEL DISCUSSION (copy)

Brian Fraley, conservative strategist and president of Edge Messaging, said Never Trumpers can still focus on down-ballot races.

A Wisconsin Republican political strategist and member of the "Never Trump" movement opposed to Donald Trump as the party's presidential nominee saw a healthy dose of irony in last week's GOP convention.

In an interview that aired Sunday on "UpFront with Mike Gousha," Brian Fraley, president of Brookfield-based Edge Messaging, pointed out the visuals from Cleveland, where Sen. Ted Cruz drew boos for not endorsing his former rival and where the nominee's acceptance speech touched on some non-conservative values.

"This party is now the party that booed a candidate who said we need to focus on liberty, the constitution, freedom and voting our conscience," Fraley said, "and then exalted a candidate who talked about big-government solutions to our problems and how as an authoritarian he will just stop it and fix it himself."

Fraley, a senior fellow at the conservative MacIver Institute, expressed his disappointment with the high-ranking members of the Wisconsin GOP for their changes of tone in regard to Trump.

He said it was "disheartening" that Gov. Scott Walker backed off denouncements of Trump that he and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Janesville, made after Trump accused a federal judge of Mexican heritage of being biased against him.

Walker and Ryan haven't always been on board with Trump as the party's nominee but both had speaking roles at the convention last week.

"I understand why the governor and why Speaker Ryan and why a lot of politicians are saying we've got to back our party's nominee. I get that," Fraley said. "But the level of enthusiasm, you own it now. You've got your guy. He's your guy. And you own everything — the good and the bad."

What can Never Trumpers do now that Trump is the GOP's standard-bearer? Fraley said they have to work for down-ballot candidates.

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In Wisconsin, that primarily means Sen. Ron Johnson, who has trailed former Sen. Russ Feingold in polling.

"Ron Johnson needs the Trump fans, the apathetic and the Never Trumpers," Fraley said. "He needs all of them together and independents in order to win. He is in the race for his life. The Trump nomination makes it much tougher for him. So it's important that all Republicans focus on this. And even the governor when addressing the delegates at a meeting on Thursday morning said that the No. 1 priority for him is Ron Johnson's reelection."

Fraley said the Republican Party is transforming with Trump's ascendance — "and not in a positive way," he said — but the state party can still unite people.

"The good news is that these are smart people that can come together on things like Ron Johnson, like addressing public policy needs that we are looking at coming forward in the budget," he said. "But if it gets into an us-versus-them and you're not with us so you're against us kind of mentality, like if you vote for anyone other than Trump then you're not a good Republican, yeah, that can have long-term damage."

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.