Trump, Back in Capitol, Has Thoughts on Taylor Swift, Nancy Pelosi and Milwaukee


Even hours later, few people could agree on what, exactly, former President Donald J. Trump said about Milwaukee when he met with House Republicans in Washington on Thursday.

But on a day when Mr. Trump returned to Capitol Hill to unite congressional Republicans behind him, more than three years after a group of his supporters mounted a violent effort to try to keep him in the White House, much of the focus was instead on stray comments he made, including about a populous city in a critical battleground state that will soon play host to his nominating convention.

According to various people in the room, Mr. Trump, during his meeting with House members at the Capitol Hill Club, complained that the pop music megastar Taylor Swift would support President Biden over him. Mr. Trump has previously argued that Ms. Swift, who endorsed Mr. Biden in 2020 but has not done so this year, should back him instead.

He falsely claimed that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter once told him that he and her mother might have been a good match, a comment that some lawmakers interpreted to refer to a romance, while others said that it merely referred to a professional partnership. One of Ms. Pelosi’s daughters pushed back on social media, calling Mr. Trump’s reported remark a lie.

And perhaps most striking, he disparaged the city of Milwaukee — the most populous city in the swing state of Wisconsin and the site of the Republican National Convention in July — over its crime rate, remarks that lent themselves to some dispute.

Mr. Trump’s exact phrasing and his degree of disdain for the city were disputed by his allies, including some in the room. But his campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, acknowledged on X that Mr. Trump had criticized the city’s crime rate and its role in his loss in the 2020 election, which Mr. Trump still insists he won.

Democrats, likely eager for an edge in a battleground state, immediately seized on the comments. “Let’s be clear: Milwaukee is not a horrible city — and Wisconsinites should remember what Donald Trump thinks of them when they vote in November,” Alex Floyd, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement.

But the buzz around Mr. Trump’s off-piste remarks was reminiscent of the hubbub that often surrounded his meetings while he was president, when attention-grabbing outtakes leaked by those in the room would often overshadow the topic at hand.

Mr. Trump’s conversational style is often digressive. During speeches on the campaign trail, he will often veer off topic, telling stories that have a tenuous connection to the subject he is meant to address.

But when he is among friends, Mr. Trump tends to become even more freewheeling. And his impulse to amuse, one he honed over years as a celebrity and tabloid fixture, rather than a stately politician, leads to feints toward humor that often play poorly outside their intended audience.

Mr. Trump to some extent seems aware of the reception his outré asides receive. At times, he and his aides seem to relish it.

At his rally over the weekend in Las Vegas, where supporters stood for hours in triple-digit temperatures, Mr. Trump joked to the crowd: “I don’t want anybody going on me. We need every voter. I don’t care about you. I just want your vote. I don’t care.”

Then, after the slightest pause, he seemed to predict an ensuing outcry. “You see, now the press will take that and they’ll say, ‘He said a horrible thing,’” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump himself has not addressed the controversy over his Milwaukee remarks, which began after Punchbowl News reported that he had called Milwaukee “horrible.” Mr. Cheung, his spokesman, used an expletive as he described the outlet’s report as “wrong” and said that Mr. Trump was denouncing “how terrible crime and voter fraud are.”

Milwaukee’s mayor and Wisconsin’s governor, both Democrats, condemned Mr. Trump’s criticism of the city, which is set to host thousands of Republican delegates and dignitaries from July 15 to July 18.

“Well, if Donald Trump wants to talk about things that he thinks are horrible, all of us lived through his presidency, so right back at you, buddy,” Cavalier Johnson, the city’s mayor, said during a news conference on Thursday.

“So to insult the state that’s hosting your convention, I think is kind of bizarre, actually,” he added.

Representative Derrick Van Orden, a Wisconsin Republican who attended Mr. Trump’s meeting on Thursday and who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, wrote on X that Mr. Trump’s criticism of Milwaukee was legitimate. He linked to a more than year-old and now outdated report that ranked Milwaukee as having the third-highest violent crime rate among the nation’s largest cities.

Denigrating Milwaukee is a regular pastime for Wisconsin Republicans and their allies in the local conservative media, who have made trashing the city a central part of their political identity. For years, Republicans, who have controlled the State Legislature since 2011, have dismissed the state’s largest city and its voters.

Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.

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