Paul Ryan Says GOP Unity Could Take Time

Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a press conference during the Republican Party of Wisconsin 2016 State Convention at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay, Wis., on Saturday, May 14, 2016.Evan Siegle / The Green Bay Press-Gazette via AP

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By Alexandra Jaffe

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday offered a lukewarm evaluation of the progress made by his meeting with Donald Trump this week, declining to say whether his children could look up to the GOP nominee but insisting the party would eventually find unity after what he called “one of the most divisive primaries we’ve had in the modern era.”

Asked during a press conference at the Wisconsin Republican Party’s state convention in Green Bay whether Trump was “someone that your kids can look up to,” Ryan demurred.

“I think the question is, where are we going from here? I'm not interested in litigating the campaign going into the past. I’m not focused on wading into the day-by-day commenting, internet back-and-forth — I’m interested in preserving policies and principles that unify us and that give the country a clear choice,” he said.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign seized on Ryan’s refusal to answer the question, with her Deputy Communications Director tweeting out: “This should not be a hard question."

Ryan’s comments signal the party’s embrace of its presumptive nominee is still an uneasy, and perhaps incomplete, one, as Trump continues to court controversy even as he’s made moves to begin building relationships with Republican leaders.

Related: Trump's 1991 Phone Call Unlikely to Hurt His Campaign, GOP Strategist Says

While House and Senate leaders praised their meetings with Trump on Capitol Hill on Thursday as productive, his overtures were overshadowed in part by controversial comments made by his longtime former butler calling for President Barack Obama to be shot, and by a report suggesting Trump had in the past posed as his own spokesman to touted his prowess with women.

On Saturday, Ryan said his meeting with Trump was “productive,” and said his team would be meeting with Trump’s next week, but emphasized the need for “real party unity, not pretend party unity … so that we go into the fall election at full strength.”

Related: What the Conservative Movement Wants From Trump

And though he said he was “encouraged with the beginning” of the process of unification based on their meeting Thursday, Ryan indicated there’s a long road ahead of the party toward unification, and wouldn’t give a timeline for the GOP to come together.

“Let’s not pretend that one or two weeks after one of the most divisive primaries we've had in the modern era that everyone is unified and on the same page. To pretend to do that and fake it means we go into fall, like I said, at half strength,” he said.

“So let's air our differences, let's get an understanding of each other, let's talk about what we think are the principles that need to be held onto, that unify us, and the policies going forward so that we can offer an agenda, and the kind of campaign we want to see going forward.”