Donald Trump, the criminally convicted ex-president, adjudicated rapist, and documented pathological liar, used the word “horrible” in talking about Milwaukee during a closed-door meeting on June 13 with GOP congressmen.

The city will host the Republican National Convention, where Trump will accept the Republican nomination next month.

The comment, verified by several people in the room who spoke afterward, was first reported by Punchbowl News while the meeting was in progress. The disparaging comment immediately drew disagreements from those there about what Trump meant.

Several congressmen who support Trump and attended the meeting argued he was referring to the city’s crime rate and false allegations of voter fraud. Trump frequently denounces Democratic-led cities as unsafe, even as violent crime decreased nationally in the most recent FBI statistics, and repeats falsehoods about his loss in the 2020 election.

President Joe Biden’s campaign and his Democratic allies pounced on the reported remark even as Wisconsin Republicans contested how it was being interpreted. President Biden posted a photo on the X social platform of himself greeting the Milwaukee Bucks after their 2021 NBA championship with the message: “I happen to love Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee is hosting the RNC starting July 15 and is the largest Democratic stronghold in swing-state Wisconsin. Trump is scheduled to be in Racine, Wisconsin, for a campaign rally on June 25, just three weeks before his criminal sentencing on 34 felony charges in New York and then the GOP convention in Milwaukee.

“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,” said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, when asked about Trump’s reported remarks at a news conference. “It is kind of strange that he would insult the largest city in Wisconsin because he’s running for president – he absolutely wants to win Wisconsin, win the election. So, to insult the state that’s hosting your convention, I think, is kind of bizarre actually. It’s kind of unhinged.”

U.S. Representative Gwen Moore, a Democrat who represents and lives in Milwaukee, made a nod to Trump’s recent felony convictions in her response. Trump is scheduled to be sentenced in New York on July 11, days before the convention opens.

“Once he’s settled in with his parole officer, I am certain he will discover that Milwaukee is a wonderful, vibrant and welcoming city full of diverse neighborhoods and a thriving business community,” Moore posted on X.

Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is up for reelection this year, said on X that Milwaukee is “part of what makes Wisconsin the best state in the nation. Donald Trump wouldn’t understand even if a jury told him so.” She used the Trump comment in a fundraising plea hours after it was first reported.

Local and statewide Democratic leaders, including Governor Tony Evers, worked with Republicans to land the convention this summer.

Governor Evers, in response to Trump’s comment, posted on X: “Add it to the list of things Donald Trump is wrong about.” He followed it with an emoji of a clown face.

A Trump aide and two attorneys who advised him in 2020 were recently charged with felonies n Wisconsin for their roles in a scheme to get Republicans to cast Wisconsin’s electoral ballots to Trump even though he lost the state.

Government and outside investigations have uniformly found there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have swung the 2020 election. But Trump has continued to spread falsehoods about the election, particularly in Wisconsin.

“Milwaukee is an amazing city, attracting millions of visitors every year who fall in love with everything we know makes this city great. The Washington Post just named Milwaukee one of the best cities in the country in the summer. ‘Top Chef’ loved Milwaukee so much they filmed a season here. We know it’s only a matter of time before everyone discovers all of the amazing things we have to offer, too,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, CEO of Visit Milwaukee in a statement.

She also pointed to National Geographic including Milwaukee in its “Best Places in the World” article in 2023. That was after writer Andrew Nelson fell in love with the city’s lakefront, museums, and Midwestern hospitality, and included Milwaukee in a book he wrote called “Here Not There.”

“If you haven’t been to Milwaukee, you may not know how great it is,” said Nelson. “So, I’m really optimistic that all of the newcomers who are visiting Milwaukee this July are going to find out that it’s a great engaging city with the friendliest people you can imagine.”

Milwaukee was supposed to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but that was moved almost entirely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions have also surfaced about whether Trump will appear in person at the RNC, given that his sentencing is set just four days before the convention is set to start.

Scott Bauer and MI Staff

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin

Jacquelyn Martin (AP), Marchello74 and Aaron of L.A. Photography (via Shutterstock)