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 re-election to his Wisconsin House seat.
“He’s had a pretty strange run since the convention,” Ryan said on WTAQ radio in Green Bay. “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 weeks, 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 died in Iraq 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 grassroots party; we aren’t a superdelegate party,” he said. “We are a party where the grassroots Republican primary voter selects the nominee. There’s something to be said for those voters.”
“He won the thing fair and square,” Ryan added.
But he made clear that he is deeply uncomfortable with Trump’s performance since becoming the nominee. He called Trump’s comments on the Khan family “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 right, 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.
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 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 “an out-of-state insurgent campaign powered by these scam PACs, staffed by out-of-state people.”
“I don’t think Wisconsinites like these kinds of things,” he said. “I feel very good where I am.”