House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trapped in a nightmarish situation of his own making in which he must defend a presumptive Republican presidential nominee whose racist-tinged comments are abhorrent to him. However, Ryan is staunchly resisting calls from Mitt Romney and other establishment Republicans to block the nomination of billionaire Donald Trump at next month’s GOP national convention.
"The way I see it, is he won the thing fair and square," Ryan said during an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that was aired on Sunday. "Seventeen people competed, one person won and he got the delegates. The delegates ultimately decide these things, but he won fair and square."
Ryan has publicly denounced Trump’s ideas for barring Muslims from entering the country, building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants – and most recently, – insisting that a federal district judge in Texas couldn’t fairly preside over a lawsuit involving the now defunct Trump University because of his Mexican heritage.
Yet Ryan insists that a Trump presidency would be preferable to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton winning the White House and continuing the policies of President Obama who formally endorsed his former secretary of state for president last week.
“Hillary Clinton is promising to double down on the Obama policies,” he told host George Stephanopoulos. “Those policies are wrong. They’re not helping. Our country is going in the wrong direction. We’re offering the country an alternative. And we need a Republican president to put that alternative together.”
Later, Ryan told host John Dickerson on CBS’s Face the Nation that he fervently hopes that the tone of Trump’s campaign improves as time goes by, although there is little indication that Trump will abandon his highly divisive, insulting and destructive tactics that served him so well throughout the 2016 GOP primary contest.
Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in the Republicans’ unsuccessful 2012 campaign, briefly stood out this year as a beacon of Republican leadership resistance to a Trump nomination and growing despair within the GOP establishment over the direction of the party.
In March, shortly after succeeding John Boehner as speaker, Ryan delivered a widely reported speech to a group of congressional interns urging the GOP to become a party of vision and positive ideas for change, which many read as an implicit criticism of Trump’s new brand of combative and seemingly mindless politics.
And when Trump surpassed the 1,237 delegates he needed to claim the presidential nomination, Ryan refused to join many other party leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in rallying behind the billionaire. Instead, Ryan shocked many by telling Jake Tapper of CNN he wasn’t quite ready to do so and wanted to learn more about what Trump actually stood for.
However, under mounting pressure from many House conservatives who favored Trump, flaws and all, Ryan finally relented and endorsed Trump a week ago in a column he penned for Wisconsin’s Janesville Gazette, his hometown newspaper.
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Yet the next day, he was compelled to publicly denounce Trump’s racially charged attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel who was presiding over a fraud class action suit that was brought against Trump University.
From the beginning, Ryan’s big hope has been to play a leading role in shaping the Republicans platform and planting the seeds of a new congressional agenda after the November election. And to that end, he has begun rolling out a series of position papers, with the first two targeted at reducing poverty and strengthening national security and defense.
But unhappily for him, Ryan has become the man in the middle of a raging internal Republican party debate over whether leaders should simply hold their noses and climb aboard the Trump bandwagon or somehow block him at the convention or get behind a third party challenge.
Ryan was hammered with a series of tough questions and comments from major GOP donors and political operatives Friday who had gathered for Romney’s annual ideas conference in Park City, Utah, as the Washington Post first reported. Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor and founder of an education news site, pressed Ryan on how she could explain to her own child why the GOP was nominating someone who has repeatedly spewed racial epithets against Hispanics, blacks and Muslims.
And Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett Package Enterprise and an unsuccessful candidate for governor in California in 2010, compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini and warned of the long-term dangers of her party compromising on its principles, according to media reports.
Ryan reportedly was startled by the intensity of the questioning and comments. He gamely sought to explain that he had little choice but to endorse Trump because of pressure he was receiving from many conservative House members from districts where Trump was very popular. Moreover, he tried to make the case that Trump would be far better than Clinton, and that with a Republican in the White House their party would have a much better chance of advancing their domestic and foreign policy agenda.
But few found Ryan’s explanation convincing.
Trump, in typical fashion, lashed out at Whitman, calling her a failed politician and badly flawed business executive. During an appearance today on ABC’s This Week, Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist, Paul Manafort, denounced Romney for being a “coward” who chose not to run again for president this year but now is attacking the party’s almost-certain standard bearer.
Manafort said that Romney, Whitman and other GOP malcontents are “sitting in their little cocoons” far removed from the political world.