House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking with reporters Monday in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, said that he is open to the possibility of endorsing Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, but in the same interview added that he is also happy to step down as the chairman of the GOP’s nominating convention if the billionaire asks him to.
Ryan’s remarks came just days after he declined to endorse the presumptive nominee, saying that he was “not there yet” in terms of being comfortable with Trump’s policy positions and his style of campaigning. The two men are scheduled for a face-to-face meeting in Washington on Thursday.
Trump responded by claiming that he had been “blindsided” by Ryan’s remarks and suggesting that he would consider demanding that Ryan step down as convention chairman. He also, as is his custom, lashed out at Ryan on Twitter.
The former reality television star’s supporters were even angrier. Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson suggested that Ryan is not fit to serve as speaker of the House if he cannot support Trump as the nominee. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity said, “I’m thinking maybe we need a new speaker.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ryan on Monday said that he wasn’t withholding his endorsement as a political statement.
“I just want to get to know the guy ... we just don't know each other," he said. "I never said never. I just said ‘at this point.’ I wish I had more time to get to know him before this happened. We just didn’t.”
Asked whether he would consider stepping down as the chairman of the nominating convention, Ryan said, “He’s the nominee. I’ll do whatever he wants with respect to the convention.”
Ryan’s seeming ambivalence about the chairmanship may be a reflection of the same widespread feeling among many in the GOP when it comes to the convention. A number of prominent Republicans -- including both living former presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as the most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney -- have refused to back Trump and will not attend the convention. A number of GOP officeholders have either announced that they will not attend or are on the fence.
The meeting scheduled for Thursday between Trump and Ryan will be closely watched for signs of either rapprochement or increasing distance between the party’s presumptive nominee and its highest-ranking elected official.