Contested convention is looking more likely, says Speaker Ryan

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP leaders rip VA chief over Disneyland comparison Tough choices in Puerto Rico 178 Dems demand end of Planned Parenthood probe MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday there’s no chance he’ll emerge as the GOP presidential nominee if no candidate captures enough delegates before this summer’s convention.

For the first time, however, Ryan acknowledged the increasing likelihood that the GOP nominee will be decided in Cleveland at what’s known as a contested or open convention.

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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMuslim lawmakers fear Trump, and what he's tapping into Sanders: Democratic primary not a 'monarchy' Will Ted Cruz let it go? MORE is the clear front-runner, but whether he can clinch the nomination by winning 1,237 delegates before the party's July convention remains to be seen.

“Nothing has changed other than the perception that this is more likely to be an open convention than we thought before,” Ryan, the ceremonial chairman of the convention, told reporters. “We’re getting our minds around the idea that this could very well become a reality and that those of us who are involved in the convention need to respect that.”

The Speaker’s comments Thursday suggest party leaders are beginning to prepare for a floor fight at the convention at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. 

When The Hill asked him in January about a possible contested convention, Ryan dismissed the idea.

“I think it’s ridiculous to talk about it,” he said at the GOP retreat in Baltimore. 

But now, as convention chairman, Ryan said he’ll need to “bone up” on not only his ceremonial duties but also on the party rules governing what’s expected to be a raucous, unpredictable convention. 

Ryan, Mitt Romney’s 2012 vice presidential running mate, also attempted to end the rampant speculation that he might be nominated if voting in Cleveland goes to multiple ballots. His predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal John Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince House GOP budget 'SWAT' team is formed MORE (R-Ohio), suggested on Wednesday that he’d back Ryan if no one has enough votes on the first ballot.

“It is not me. ... I saw BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal John Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince House GOP budget 'SWAT' team is formed MORE last night and I told him to knock it off,” Ryan said. “I used slightly different words. I used his own words that he used against us when he told us to knock things off.

“It’s not going to be me. It should be someone running for president. ... Let’s just put this thing to rest and move on.”

Ryan is increasingly being drawn into the fight within the GOP over Trump. 

As chairman of the party's nominating convention, Ryan is neutral in the primary race, but he's clashed with Trump on a number of occasions.

On Friday, the Speaker publicly rebuked Trump for a fourth time — this time for suggesting there could be "riots" if he doesn't win the nomination at this summer's convention in Cleveland.

"Nobody should say such things, in my opinion," Ryan said, "because to even address or hint at violence is unacceptable."

Earlier this week, the Speaker suggested Trump needed to take some responsibility for some of the violence that has broken out at his recent rallies, calling it "very concerning." Ryan recently scolded the billionaire businessman for failing to forcefully disavow an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

And last year, Ryan blasted Trump for proposing a ban on Muslims from entering the United States, calling it unconstitutional and un-American. 

"If anybody, not just Donald Trump, if anybody is out there representing the Republican Party in ways that we believe disfigures conservatism ... I, as a party leader, and others I assume as well have an obligation to defend our principles from being distorted. And we're going to continue doing that," Ryan said Thursday.

But he previously has said he will support whoever wins the GOP nomination, and on Thursday said he did not believe he will have to denounce Trump's candidacy.

In an interview with CNBC, Ryan said he will find a way to work with Trump if he's the party's nominee. 

“We’ll make it work if it happens,” Ryan said. “I’m going to defend our ideas as the Republican Party, but we’re going to have to work with whoever our nominee is.”

The Speaker said he believes a Trump presidency would be less harmful than a Democrat succeeding President Obama.

“If we have another presidency like this presidency, then I really do worry that the best days will be behind us, and that’s the problem.”

- Updated at 2:48 p.m. Jessie Hellman contributed.