The brewing animosity between House Speaker Paul Ryan and Donald Trump ratcheted up considerably on Tuesday when the Wisconsin lawmaker ripped the GOP presidential frontrunner for not immediately disavowing former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill this morning, Ryan said that Super Tuesday “is the kind of moment where we should be having a serious debate about the policies needed to restore the American idea. Instead, the conversation the last few days has been about white supremacist groups.”
Ryan then shook his head and bit his lip.
“As you know I try to stay out of the day-to-day, up-and-downs of the primary, but I’ve also said when I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and as a country, I will speak up,” he said. “So today I want to be very clear about something: If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.
“This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the Party of Lincoln,” he said. “We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental, and if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this.”
Ryan said he hopes “this is the last time I need to speak out on this race."
Trump was asked on Sunday about support for his campaign from the KKK and David Duke. The reality TV star repeatedly said he "didn't know" enough about Duke or white supremacist groups to renounce them.
Later that day, Trump tweeted: “As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke- I disavow.”
On Monday, Trump said he was unable to hear the question due to a bad earpiece. His GOP rivals and Democrats alike have pounced on that excuse to paint Trump, who is leading in most Super Tuesday polls, as an unapologetic bigot.
While Ryan’s comments were unusually forceful for someone who prides himself as consensus-builder, they were just then latest in a series of dust-ups between him and Trump.
In November, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee said he couldn’t imagine how Trump’s plan to deport 12 million illegal immigrants out of the country would work. A few weeks later, Ryan broke his rule not to comment on the race for the White House when he condemned Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
“This is not conservatism,” Ryan said at the time.
The House Speaker, arguably one of the most high-profile faces of the GOP establishment, took it to Trump again in January when he picked South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (who has now endorsed Marco Rubio) to deliver the response to Obama’s final State of the Union address. Haley took direct swipes at Trump’s immigration policies, saying that "during anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
Naturally, Trump has been willing to return fire, labeling the two-year budget deal Ryan helped craft with the White House as “stupid.”
At this point it’s unclear how the rift between the two could ever be repaired. The split could be another fracture in the Republican coalition, like the vow by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) that he won’t vote for Trump come November.
For his part, Ryan said he still plans to support whoever the eventual GOP nominee is.
“I never believe that our party is beyond the point of repair,” he said.