The two front-runners in Wisconsin's Republican primary for U.S. Senate traded barbs this week, after a YouTube video surfaced from 2016.
State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wis.) appears to criticize Donald Trump in the clip, filmed ahead of the presidential election. But she says her opponent, businessman Kevin Nicholson, is just using dirty campaign tactics.
Pro-Trump website Breitbart released the video at the end of July. A super PAC aligned with Steve Bannon — a former Trump adviser who once ran the site — has endorsed Nicholson in the race.
What did she say in the video?
The video released was from a forum hosted by never-Trumper and former radio host Charlie Sykes. In the video, Vukmir tells the panel during a discussion about Trump:
"He's offensive to everyone. He's offensive to women. He's offensive to men. He's offensive to little people. He's offensive to fat people. He's offensive to everyone, and I — he offends everyone.
"So, I think ultimately if our goal as Republicans is to defeat Hillary Clinton," she continues, "there are going to be a lot of people doing this if they want to."
Vukmir made a gesture as she ended the sentence, indicating that many GOP voters would need to hold their nose in casting a vote for Trump.
How did she respond to the release?
Vukmir fired back at Nicholson this week, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I'll cut right to the chase. These are desperate tactics from a guy who claims to be an outsider yet he is using D.C. swamp campaign strategy plain and simple. And, honestly, I think most people are sick of it."
Vukmir then directed attention to what she called hypocrisy, given that the national Club for Growth had endorsed Nicholson.
"We know the Club for Growth," she said. "It spent millions against Donald Trump in that election cycle."
Nicholson said in a statement: "The people who Donald Trump really offends are the establishment politicians like Leah Vukmir who only support the president when it's easy or politically convenient. This is why voters don't trust the political class — they are hypocrites, pure and simple. Leah's own words against President Trump prove she's long been a Trump opponent, and it is important that Wisconsin Republicans know the truth."
Nicholson initially supported Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) during the 2016 presidential primary, later backing Trump. Vukmir first endorsed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in that race, then Rubio, and eventually voted for Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Vukmir also pointed out to the Journal Sentinel that Nicholson's campaign was being run by Axiom Strategies — which was founded by Jeff Roe, the senior strategist for the Cruz presidential campaign.
She added, "I do know, [Nicholson's] top aide, Jeff Roe, was a big never-Trumper."
Whoever wins the GOP primary on Aug. 14 will advance to take on incumbent Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the fall.