House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) broke his rule of not talking about the presidential race on Capitol Hill today, saying that his “plan is to support the nominee” but the nominee should support core principles.
“Republicans are going to the polls in 11 states today. There is a lot at stake. And this 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 over the last few days has been about white supremacist groups,” Ryan said.
Without naming the candidate, he was referencing last week’s praise of Trump by former Louisiana House of Representatives member and KKK grand wizard David Duke. On his radio show, Duke encouraged his supporters to volunteer for the Trump campaign and vote for the real-estate mogul. Pressed on Duke’s backing at a press conference on Friday, Trump said, “I disavow, OK?”
Trump was pressed further on CNN Sunday. “Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?” asked host Jake Tapper.
“Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know,” Trump replied. “…You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.”
Tapper repeated the general question two more times and received similar answers from Trump. The billionaire told NBC the next morning that his earpiece during the interview had a bad connection.
Ryan’s former running mate, Mitt Romney, slammed Trump on Twitter: “A disqualifying & disgusting response by
@realDonaldTrump to the KKK. His coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America.”
Ryan told reporters outside of a closed caucus meeting that he tries “to stay out of the day-to-day ups 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. 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,” said the 2012 vice presidential candidate.
“This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln. 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 added: “I hope this is the last time I need to speak out on this race. It’s time we get back to focusing on how, very specifically, how we are going to get to solving the many problems that American families are facing after seven years of Barack Obama. For now, I’ll just leave it at that.”
The speaker said he doesn’t believe that the Republican Party is ever “beyond the point of repair.”
“Of course, we don’t want to see divisions within our party. We are conservatives. We believe in the American idea. We believe in the principles that built this country that made us such an exceptional nation in the first place,” Ryan continued.
“So, what can we in the House do about it? We can offer the people a clear and compelling choice, an agenda based on our principles. We’re going to be doing that.”
Ryan stressed he’s “going to speak out on behalf of our ideas and our principles all the time, no matter what is happening in any other circumstances.”
“And that, to me, is what we have to offer the country. And that’s what we can control here in the House.”