Will Paul Ryan Be Replaced By a White Supremacist in Wisconsin?

Updated | House Speaker Paul Ryan's looming retirement buoys the chances of his opponents, and one of them is a notorious white nationalist who is considered to be the first alt-right candidate to run for national office.

Paul Nehlen, a businessman turned politician who lost to Ryan in a 2016 primary challenge, is no longer welcome in the Republican Party, state officials have told Newsweek, but his name will nevertheless appear on the ballot in August during the Wisconsin primary election.

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To better understand what makes Nehlen such a problematic figure for state Republicans, it's useful to look at his associations. He appeared on David Duke's radio show earlier this year and described his vision for President Donald Trump's border wall as being a precursor to gunning down women and children. "Armed machine gun turrets every 300 yards," he told Duke about his concept for a border wall. "And you can automate those. Anyone who approaches that barrier will be treated as an enemy combatant. Man, woman or child."

He frequently interacted with white supremacists and other extremists, including Andrew Anglin of Daily Stormer and "Crying Nazi" Christopher Cantwell on the social network Gab this year—but that was before he joined a small group of men who managed to get banned from that white nationalist-happy website last week. Nehlen, who was also banned from Twitter in February for using language that scapegoated Jews and people of color, lost his privileges on the so-called free speech social network because he publically released the identity of a white nationalist troll.

Nehlen was not always shunned by conservatives. In 2016, he became a known quantity after Steve Bannon, then the executive chairman of Breitbart News, offered words of support. (Bannon, who later served as an adviser to Trump and his campaign strategist, disavowed him in 2017.) Trump even mentioned Nehlen in a 2016 tweet during his run for office.

It's unclear how successful Nehlen's campaign will be in a state that is largely Republican but has in recent years increasingly backed Democratic candidates.

Kevin Seifert, the executive director for Ryan's political operation, told Newsweek that Nehlen "disqualified himself from public office a long time ago" after he posted on Twitter an image of Meghan Markle, a former actress who is engaged to be married to Prince Harry of the British royal family, that was photoshopped to look like Cheddar Man, a dark skinned man believed to be the first modern British person.

Seifert reiterated on Monday in a statement that Ryan and his staff believed that Nehlen's "bigoted rhetoric" made him unfit for public office.

"There are many qualified conservatives who would be effective representatives of Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District, and Paul Nehlen isn't one of them," he said.

Governor Scott Walker called his rhetoric "racist" in February. Alec Zimmerman, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin GOP, told Newsweek that month that Nehlen was no longer accepted by other Republicans.

"Paul Nehlen is not a member of the Republican Party of Wisconsin," Zimmerman said. "Nehlen and his ideas have no place in the Republican Party."

This article has been updated to include a statement from Ryan's staff.