By Scott Wong - 03/16/16 04:37 PM EDT
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanSessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon Dole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable MORE on Wednesday slammed the door shut on speculation that he could be the GOP presidential nominee if front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump thanks 16,500 Border Patrol Agents for support Dems see political gold in fight over Trump's taxes Trump tears into Kristol on Twitter MORE can’t secure enough delegates before the party’s convention in Cleveland this summer.
Asked if there was any scenario in which he could imagine being the Republican nominee, an exasperated Ryan told The Hill: “No, there isn’t. 'No' is the answer. Definitively.”
“I am not going to become the president through Cleveland,” Ryan said in a separate interview with Politico.
The Wisconsin Republican’s remarks Wednesday represent the strongest declaration to date that he will not be the GOP nominee in the event of a contested or open convention.
Many Republicans believe Trump won’t be able to lock up the necessary 1,237 delegates before Cleveland, pushing the nominating process to a second ballot and a free-for-all on the convention floor.
Chatter about Ryan hit a crescendo Wednesday morning when his predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio), said he would back Ryan as the nominee if no one had secured enough delegates before the convention kicks off in his home state on July 18.
Earle Mack, a former George W. Bush administration official, recently launched the “Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan for President” but had to shut it down last week amid legal threats from Ryan's attorneys.
And some of Ryan’s House GOP colleagues have said they’d be open to supporting the Speaker for the nomination if it meant denying Trump the nod.
As the ceremonial chairman of the convention, Ryan has stayed neutral in the presidential contest. But on three separate occasions, the Speaker has rebuked Trump for making inflammatory statements or proposing controversial ideas, including banning Muslims from the United States.
Ryan’s strong denials on Wednesday are unlikely to completely quiet such speculation.
The Speaker is third in line to the presidency and was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012.
He has experience in a national campaign, understands the inner workings of government, and is articulate and at ease in TV interviews and at news conferences. At 46, he projects youth and could appeal to a younger generation of voters in a head-to-head match-up with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDems see political gold in fight over Trump's taxes Trump tears into Kristol on Twitter Hillary's ObamaCare problem MORE, who is 68.
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said it was highly unlikely the eventual nominee would be someone who didn’t run for the White House this cycle but added: “If we were to get to the point where a noncandidate was possible, Paul would be best.”
While Ryan flirted with a White House bid last year, he didn’t pull the trigger, instead opting to remain in his dream job as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He unexpectedly landed in the Speaker’s office last fall after conservatives pressured BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE to resign and blocked Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from succeeding him.
Before accepting the Speakership, he repeatedly said he was not interested in the job.
“I actually think you should run for president if you're gonna be president, if you wanna be president,” Ryan said in an interview this week with CNBC. “I'm not running for president. I made that decision, consciously, not to. I don't see that happening. I'm not thinking about it. I'm happy where I am.”
Talk of him being a nominee at a contested convention is, for Ryan, an unwanted distraction at a time when the Speaker is struggling to corral enough votes inside his unruly GOP conference to pass a budget through the House.
Privately, he’s been telling members of his inner circle he’s not entertaining the idea.
“Paul is not interested,” McCarthy told The Hill.
Other Republicans said the Ryan speculation is unhelpful to the party as a whole, fomenting distrust among Trump backers and further dividing the GOP between the establishment and outsiders.
Trump on Wednesday suggested there could be riots at the convention if he has the most delegates and is denied the nomination.
“I think if Donald Trump or one of the others is within 100 or 150 delegates, I think we would be stupid as a party not to coalesce around that nominee,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who will be attending the convention in his home state. “Otherwise, we’re going to split the party and hand the presidency on a silver platter to Hillary Clinton.
“Then we’re stuck with ObamaCare; we’re stuck with a left-wing Supreme Court for a generation.”
Over the weekend, Boehner endorsed his close friend, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who trails far behind Trump but ended up winning the Buckeye State’s 66 delegates on Tuesday. But at a conference Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla., the former Speaker said he would not support any of the remaining three candidates — Trump, Kasich or Ted CruzTed CruzDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune MORE — if Republicans arrived in Cleveland without a clear nominee.
"If we don't have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I'm for none of the above," Boehner said, according to Politico. "They all had a chance to win. None of them won. So I'm for none of the above.
“I'm for Paul Ryan to be our nominee,” Boehner said.
Boehner’s off-the-cuff remarks didn’t sit well with leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, the band of conservative rabble-rousers who pushed him out of office last October.
Boehner “has no relevance any longer. We showed him the door out,” said Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns House panel approves Puerto Rico debt relief MORE (R-La.). “That’s the whole problem. Speaker Boehner tends to want to speak for the American people. I think we should let the American people speak for the American people. And Paul Ryan is not on the ballot.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who authored a resolution last year to oust Boehner from power, said he was surprised to learn Boehner had floated Ryan’s name just days after he cast a ballot for Kasich.
“Speaker Boehner went on record to endorse John Kasich. John Kasich is still in the race. John Kasich said he’s going to stay in the race through any potential contested convention,” Meadows said. “The Speaker I’ve come to know is a man of his word, and I can’t imagine him changing his endorsement from Kasich to Paul Ryan.”