House Speaker Paul Ryan repeated Thursday that his endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was “not a blank check” and delivered a sharp critique of Trump’s flailing campaign two days after Trump declined to endorse Ryan for reelection to his Wisconsin congressional seat.
“He’s had a pretty strange run since the convention,” Ryan said on WTAQ radio in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “You would think that we want to be focusing on Hillary Clinton, on all of her deficiencies. She is such a weak candidate that one would think that we would be on offense against Hillary Clinton, and it is distressing that that’s not what we’re talking about these days.”
The interview was Ryan’s first live interview in more than a week, and it followed a near-constant string of Trump controversies, including his attacks on the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American Army officer who was killed in Iraq War combat in 2004.
Ryan repeated some of his previous comments on Trump, telling host Jerry Bader that he was not inclined as a leader of the Republican Party to question the choice of the voters who made Trump the GOP nominee. “We are a grass-roots party; we aren’t a superdelegate party,” he said. “We are a party where the grass-roots Republican primary voter selects our nominee. And that’s as it should be. … And I think there’s something to be said about respecting those voters.”
“He won the delegates,” Ryan added. “He won the thing fair and square.”
But he made clear that he is deeply uncomfortable with Trump’s performance since becoming the nominee. He said Trump’s comments on the Khan family “were beyond the pale.”
“You don’t do that to Gold Star families,” he said. “If anyone has earned the right to say whatever they want, it is Gold Star families.”
Bader pressed Ryan on whether a moment would ever come where he would abandon Trump. Ryan repeated a line he has given previously – “none of these things are ever blank checks” – while acknowledging that he would remain behind Trump even after the Khan controversy while continuing to speak out against his various controversial utterances.
“I don’t like doing this; I don’t want to do this,” Ryan said. “But I will do this because I feel I have to in order to defend Republicans and our principles so that people don’t make the mistake of thinking we think like that.”
Trump on Tuesday told The Washington Post that he would not endorse Ryan in his primary fight against Paul Nehlen, a pro-Trump businessman who has slammed Ryan for his past support of trade deals and immigration reform. Then on Wednesday, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, broke with Trump and gave Ryan an unalloyed endorsement.
Speaking to ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said “there’s a conflict within the Trump campaign” about the Ryan primary.
“Of course, he’s going to work with Paul Ryan,” Manafort said. “Of course, he’s tried to bridge the party together with Paul Ryan, but Ryan is also running against somebody who’s not going to win but nonetheless, he’s a strong supporter of Mr. Trump’s.”
Ryan on Thursday dismissed Nehlen’s campaign as “desperate” and “powered by these scam PACs and with a lot of out-of-state people.”
“I don’t think Wisconsinites take kindly to this,” he said. “I feel very good where I am. The people here in Wisconsin know me and know me well.”