“Because he’s taking my votes. He’s not taking Cruz’s votes. He’s taking my votes,” Trump said.
The real estate mogul stopped by Miss Katie's Diner here in Milwaukee on Sunday. The quaint 1950s-themed restaurant has hosted several presidential candidates in the past. Trump shook hands and spoke with surprised diners for several minutes before sitting down to eat breakfast with his senior advisers.
It was a rare campaign stop for Trump, who typically interacts with voters on the rope lines at campaign rallies.
Although Trump acknowledged that a string of controversies last week “might” cost him votes, he remained bullish that he could win in Wisconsin despite Sen. Ted Cruz's significant lead there. Recent polls have shown the mogul trailing Cruz by huge margins, including a Marquette Law School poll that showed him with 30 percent support to Cruz’s 40 percent.
"Despite all of these negative ads, and you know the negative media, because the media, look, the media would like to see establishment get in for whatever reason," Trump said during a news conference Sunday. "The media would like to see establishment. Despite all of that, I’m just about leading in Wisconsin. I think we could have a very good turnout."
Trump rejected the notion that Wisconsin could turn out like Iowa, which neighbors Wisconsin and where he suffered an important loss to Cruz.
“No, it feels to me like New Hampshire. A lot of people thought I was going to lose New Hampshire. And we won in a landslide,” Trump said.
Trump said he discussed Kasich's long-shot bid with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus when the two met last week in Washington. Kasich has no mathematical path to an outright primary victory, as he is too far behind in the delegate count to cross the 1,237-delegate threshold for securing the party’s nomination outright. His only hope of winning the nomination is if he emerges as a consensus candidate in a contested convention.
Trump said Kasich is taking votes from him, increasing the possibility that Trump will be unable to capture enough delegates and win outright and increasing the likelihood of a contested convention. There, anti-Trump forces in the Republican establishment are likely to maneuver to install a nominee who can consolidate delegate support against the billionaire.
"It’s very unfair because he’s taking our votes. Anybody could have stayed in. You could have had [Jim] Gilmore stay in. I mean, to be honest with you, Gilmore could have just stayed in," Trump said. "A guy like [George] Pataki could have just stayed in, he had zero. So it’s very unfair that Kasich stays in, is my opinion."
Although Trump has walked back a controversial statement he made last week — he said women should be subject to punishment for seeking illegal abortions if the procedure were banned nationwide — he remained steadfast Sunday that his initial position was not totally unpopular.
“A lot of people called me up on abortion, they had tremendous support. I mean, tremendous support on the whole way the abortion question was answered, including the first answer,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “Tremendous support. So we’re going to have to just see how it all turns out. I think we’re doing very well.”
The Kasich campaign responded with a terse statement Sunday evening, dismissing Trump's criticism and asserting that they do not believe Trump will be able to secure enough delegates to win the nomination.
"It also shows that Trump knows that his toughest competition after Wisconsin is John Kasich," Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said.