MILWAUKEE— A frustrated Donald Trump worked to right his campaign on Sunday after a rough week and found himself on the defensive just two days before the closely watched primary in Wisconsin where he faces the prospect of a loss that could stem his momentum toward securing the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump trails Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the polls in Wisconsin. A loss in Tuesday’s primary will raise doubts that the billionaire real estate mogul can net the needed delegates to win the nomination outright, making it far easier for his party to oust him in a floor fight at the Republican national convention in Cleveland in July.
Trump called for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to drop out of the Republican race, arguing that the Ohio governor who’s only won his home state so far shouldn’t be allowed to continue accumulating delegates if he has no chance of being the nominee.
Working to recover his edge after a difficult week, Trump suggested that Kasich, who has pledged to make it to the summer convention, follow the example of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — candidates who quit after lagging behind.
“He doesn’t have to run and take my votes,” Trump told reporters as he stopped for breakfast at a Milwaukee diner.
Trump said Kasich could ask to be considered at the Republican convention even without competing in the remaining nominating contests. He added that he had relayed his concerns to Republican National Committee officials at a meeting in Washington this past week.
Kasich’s campaign tried to flip the script, contending that neither Trump nor Cruz would have enough delegates to win the nomination outright going into the convention.
“Since he thinks it’s such a good idea, we look forward to Trump dropping out before the convention,” said Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she had yet to receive a request from the FBI for an interview regarding the private email system she used as secretary of state. And during a series of stops at Brooklyn church services, she got in a dig at her Democratic opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has identified as an independent for most of his career.
“I know we have to have a Democrat succeed Barack Obama,” Clinton said.
Clinton and Sanders announced they had agreed to a debate in New York before the consequential April 19 primary, though the timing remained unclear. Sanders fired up a crowd in Wausau, Wisconsin, hoping to continue his string of recent campaign victories even as Clinton maintains a sizable lead in delegates to the party’s national nominating convention in July in Philadelphia.
Trump’s call for Kasich to drop out came as Republican concerns grew about the prospect of convention chaos if Trump fails to lock up his party’s nomination — or even if he does.
Cruz, Trump’s closest challenger, has only a small chance to overtake him in the delegate hunt before the convention. He spent his afternoon rallying supporters in Wisconsin in an event heavy with references to the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers football team.
Kasich has acknowledged he cannot catch up in the delegate race, leaving a contested convention his only path to victory. He has faced calls in the past to step aside, but those nudges became less frequent following his decisive victory last month in his home state.
Still, Kasich suggested that a contested convention would not involve the chaos that party leaders fear.
“Kids will spend less time focusing on Bieber and Kardashian and more time focusing on how we elect presidents,” Kasich told ABC. “It will be so cool.”
Republicans fear an unseemly internal fight would damage the party in November’s general election, and Trump isn’t ruling out the possibility that if he’s not the nominee, he could run as an independent, likely sinking Republican chances for winning the White House.
Frustration with the Republican field has stoked calls in some Republican corners for the party to use a contested convention to pick someone not even on the ballot. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged that was a remote possibility, but he said he believed his party’s candidate would be “someone who’s running.”
Trump was trying to recover from a rough week in which he found himself struggling to explain away controversies over abortion, nuclear weapons and his campaign manager.
“Was this my best week? I guess not,” Trump said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Yet as he campaigned in Milwaukee, Trump returned to the confident bravado his supporters have come to expect. Stopping for breakfast at Miss Katie’s Diner, Trump predicted he’d do “very well” on Tuesday.
Wisconsin has emerged as a proving ground for anti-Trump forces as the front-runner’s campaign stumbled, leading his rivals to question his maturity as a candidate.
In a Washington Post interview, Trump warned that a “very massive recession” is coming, and he said he could eliminate the $19 trillion national debt in two terms. Most economists say that’s impossible without wrecking the federal budget.
In Egypt, former Trump rival and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to reassure an Arab world wary of Trump, who has called for banning Muslim immigration to the United States.
“The Congress is going to be around no matter who is president,” Graham said after meeting with Egypt’s leader.
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press