Paul Ryan Says He Is ‘Not Ready’ to Endorse Donald Trump
Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Capitol Hill last week.
DREW ANGERER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER and ALEXANDER BURNS
MAY 5, 2016
WASHINGTON — In an extraordinary rebuke of his party’s presumed nominee, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking elected Republican, said Thursday that he was “not ready” to endorse Donald J. Trump for president.
Mr. Ryan’s announcement represented a split among Republicans not seen in at least a half century, and it came only two days after Mr. Trump said he would unify the party after essentially clinching the nomination with his victory in the Indiana primary.
As the chairman of the Republican National Convention, Mr. Ryan has repeatedly said he would support his party’s nominee as Republicans tried to regain the White House and solidify control of Congress.
But the combination of Mr. Trump’s at times outrageous remarks — insulting women, Hispanics and Muslims — and his broad rejection of many core Republican policies proved too toxic a brew for Mr. Ryan as he defended his majority in the House, the reputation of his party and his own viability.
Within an hour, Mr. Trump offered a biting rejoinder, saying in a statement that he was “not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda.”
“Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people,” he said. “They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!”
Mr. Ryan, who made his remarks in an interview with CNN, said Republicans want “a standard-bearer that bears our standards.”
“I think conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?” he said. “There’s a lot of questions that conservatives, I think, are going to want answers to.”
Mr. Ryan’s ambivalence toward Mr. Trump adds another layer of division in a party torn by the billionaire developer’s ascent, placing him at odds with his fellow Wisconsinite, Reince Priebus, the party chairman, who pronounced Mr. Trump the presumptive nominee and said Republicans should fall in line. Mr. Priebus was not aware Mr. Ryan was going to make the statement, his spokesman, Sean Spicer, told CNN.
Although Mr. Ryan said he had expected the race to run at least a few more weeks, he had spent the last day honing his position, aides said, even as others, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, voiced unequivocal if not effusive support for Mr. Trump. While Mr. Ryan’s defiance put him in line with a number of other prominent Republicans, Mr. Trump has defied convention throughout the campaign, so the long-term effect was at best uncertain.
In a campaign that has delivered a daily dose of head-shaking moments of awe, Mr. Trump on Thursday continued the trend, in a manner that made some Republicans cringe. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, Mr. Trump posted a photo on Twitter of himself digging into a taco bowl — made in the Trump Tower food court, of course — and included in the caption “I love Hispanics.”
A party nominee has never failed to gain the support of a House speaker or majority leader from his party in modern times. In 1896, Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed ran against William McKinley and made it be known he would not serve as vice president, but ended up backing the nominee.
In 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater had to wait a bit uncomfortably for the endorsement of Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, but Mr. Dirksen gave it and thus ended the stop-Goldwater movement.
While Mr. Ryan’s remarks caught Republicans off guard, it also gave them essentially a permission slip to go their own way on Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Had Mr. Ryan issued a forceful endorsement, it would have put pressure on fellow House Republicans to follow his lead, a step many have been unwilling to take.
“I’m not there right now,” Mr. Ryan said. “And I hope to, though, and I want to. But I think what is required is that we unify the party, and I think the bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee.”
Mr. Trump, who once said Mr. Ryan would “pay a big price” if he did not support him, knows that the speaker and other opponents did not have great sway over primary voters. But Mr. Ryan, who has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Republicans, may well be a more notable voice in a general election.
Outside of Mr. Trump’s remarks about Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, women and other groups — which Mr. Ryan has at times gone out of his way to denounce — his policy positions on many major issues, notably trade and entitlements, stand in stark contrast with Mr. Ryan’s.
Mr. Ryan has been signaling a willingness to carve out some terrain to differentiate himself by insisting that House Republicans write their own policy agenda this year, and he has left bread crumbs of ambivalence for months by giving speeches that at times criticized Mr. Trump’s views.
After Mr. Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, Mr. Ryan strongly disagreed. “This is not conservatism,” Mr. Ryan said in December. “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more important, it’s not what this country stands for.”
He also criticized Mr. Trump for declining to distance himself from the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” Mr. Ryan told reporters in early March.
“This is fundamental,” Mr. Ryan added at the time. “And if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this. I hope this is the last time I need to speak out on this race.”
While saying Thursday that “I don’t want to underplay” what Mr. Trump accomplished, Mr. Ryan picked up on those earlier themes, adding, “We hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln and Reaganesque,” someone who “appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans.”
Mr. Trump is expected to be a drag on some Republican candidates running for the House and Senate this November, given his intense unpopularity with key voting groups, including women, Hispanics and voters with college degrees.
Even before Mr. Ryan spoke out, Mr. Trump was confronting the prospect of crippling defections within the Republican elite. Both George Bush and George W. Bush, the only two living former Republican presidents, announced on Wednesday that they would not back his candidacy.
Mike Shields, president of the American Action Network, a conservative outside spending group, said Mr. Ryan had effectively cleared the way for others in the party to decide for themselves how to handle Mr. Trump. Mr. Shields said that with Mr. Ryan as an example, many candidates could cleave to a message and an issue agenda distinct from Mr. Trump’s.
“This is something that every Republican can say at the local level,” Mr. Shields said. “It’s great leadership on Paul Ryan’s part, because it puts them in a place where all these other members can turn around and say the same thing, which is, ‘Look, there are some things that we’ve got to stand for.’ ”
In exit polls, big chunks of the Republican electorate said they remained deeply wary of Mr. Trump. In Indiana, the state where he effectively locked up the Republican nomination, about a quarter of Republican voters said they would be scared to see him as the president.
Mr. Ryan alluded Thursday to the broad stakes for his party. “I just think you always run like everything is on the line. My focus this fall is, has been and will be the House majority,” Mr. Ryan said. He added, “But I also really love this country, and I want to see us win this election.”