Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE on Thursday pressed presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE to do more to unify the party. But the Speaker’s latest public break with Trump has started tearing Republicans apart.
Members of the "Never Trump" movement and Trump’s biggest critics on Capitol Hill cheered Ryan’s remarks on CNN that he could not in good conscience endorse or support the bombastic New York businessman at this time.
Ryan’s “proving that he's an honest and courageous leader and not just another politician who quietly falls in line,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla), who has refused to endorse Trump, told The Hill. “He’s putting the country above petty partisan interests.”
But some of the Wisconsin Republican’s other House colleagues scolded the Speaker for not giving Trump a full-throated endorsement after his two remaining rivals — Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate confirms four Biden ambassadors after delay Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it MORE (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — dropped out of the GOP primary. Failing to back Trump could hand Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 MORE, the Democratic front-runner, an easy White House victory, some members argued.
“This man is now our presumptive nominee, and we need to be rallying behind him, and I’m disappointed that the Speaker wasn’t able to do that today,” said one GOP lawmaker who previously backed another candidate but is now supporting Trump.
“Paul is the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country. For him not to be backing the nominee sends a dangerous message.”
“Simply wrong,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) chimed in on his Facebook page in response to the Speaker.
Added Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump surrogate who’s friends with Ryan: “The Speaker shares the unity responsibility and his statement today isn't helpful. I'm confident he will realize that soon.”
The GOP divide over Ryan’s decision not to get on board with Trump reflects the broader civil war raging within the Grand Old Party as it prepares to coronate a billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star with zero political experience and a questionable conservative record.
Ryan and Trump’s differences have been on full display for months: The Speaker criticized Trump’s plan to ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S., called on Trump do tamp down violence at his rallies and chided him for not forcefully disavowing white supremacist David Duke.
“At this point, I think he needs to do more to unify this party, to bring all wings of this Republican Party together and then to go forward to appeal to all Americans in every walk of life, every background, a majority of independents and discerning Democrats,” Ryan said on CNN’s “The Lead.”
“I think conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?”
Ryan’s stunning remarks capped an already strange day in the 2016 campaign. All but one of the living GOP presidents and presidential nominees said they would skip this summer’s GOP convention in Cleveland, where Trump will formally be nominated.
And the CNN interview came after two other top party elders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin backs raising debt ceiling with reconciliation if GOP balks Biden needs to be both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Billionaire tax gains momentum MORE (R-Ky.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Ryan’s longtime friend from Wisconsin — both endorsed Trump, calling him the “presumptive nominee.”
Ryan's comments are remarkable for another reason: Trump has won waves of support and has run away with the GOP primary contest on one message. Ryan now wants him to change it to another.
It's a request Trump flat-out rejected on Thursday.
“I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda,” Trump said in a terse statement. “Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!”
In the CNN interview, Ryan went on to say that Republicans want “a standard-bearer that bears our standards and that unifies all of the wings of the Republican Party."
What was unsaid was that Ryan, himself, is essentially the only person who satisfies this condition. Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, Ryan last fall was reluctantly drafted by moderate and conservative colleagues alike to be Speaker after John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE abruptly resigned in the middle of his term.
The ambitious 46-year-old Speaker has presidential aspirations but said he decided not to run this cycle and wouldn’t be his party’s nominee under any circumstance. Some have speculated that his high-profile speeches and interviews this year, contrasting himself with Trump, are paving the way for a White House bid in 2020 in the event Hillary Clinton crushes Trump in November.
However, a more short-term view is that Ryan is trying to insulate some of his more vulnerable members from Trump and the unrelenting attacks from Democrats that come with Trump’s impending nomination.
“He’s giving his conference a little wiggle room. He’s saying he’ll take the hits on behalf of the conference,” said one GOP strategist. “If I was Speaker, that would be my calculus, too.”
Trump and his campaign aides have been trying to set up meetings between Trump and House and Senate lawmakers sometime this month — a show of GOP unity as the candidate pivots to the general election. But Ryan’s hesitation to endorse Trump will put a wrinkle in those plans.
“That's [Ryan] playing power games with Trump,” said a Democratic aide.
The aide said Ryan's message is two-pronged: One, Republicans are not going to just kowtow to Trump. And two, Trump is going to have to deal with Congress, in general, and Ryan in particular.
But it’s Ryan who may get an earful from rank-and-file Republicans when Congress returns to Washington next week.
“The Republican leadership doesn’t get to tell the people what the party is all about. The people tell the leadership what the party is all about. And right now, the party is about Donald Trump,” said the GOP lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak freely about Ryan.
“Republican voters get to decide what the party stands for and who the nominee is. Right now, the party nominee is Donald Trump, and we need to find a way to support him.”