GREEN BAY, Wisc. — House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to move past his latest spat with Donald Trump in a series of radio interviews this week dismissing Trump’s nod to his primary challenger and insisting he’s focused on his own district.
“Heck if I know,” he told local radio host Jay Weber when asked if the latest flap between the two, sparked earlier this week when Trump tweeted favorably to Ryan primary challenger Paul Nehlen, was over. “I’m not gonna try and psychoanalyze this stuff.”
His comments came just hours before Trump will appear at a rally in Green Bay, two hours north of Ryan’s district, where Trump is expected to endorse Ryan, according to sources familiar with the plan. A Ryan spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of an impending endorsement.
After his tweet to Nehlen, which brought the underdog challenger a bounty of national press attention, Trump went on to tell the Washington Post he wasn’t ready to endorse Ryan in the primary, an unprecedented move for the nominee of any major party.
Ryan, who’s well-liked in his district and expected to easily defeat Nehlen on Tuesday, insisted on WISN on Friday that he wasn’t concerned with Trump’s endorsement.
“Honestly, the endorsement I'm personally, the one that I care about are the ones from the people here in Wisconsin, you know, my first congressional district employers,” he said.
Many Republicans speculated Trump’s move was intended as retribution for Ryan’s recent criticism of the candidate’s response to the family of a dead Muslim U.S. soldier.
The latest episode in the saga of their strained relationship sparked a new round of speculation over Trump’s viability in the race, with observers now wondering whether Trump might have to drop out of the race as his polling numbers nationwide and in key battleground states tanked.
Ryan dismissed such speculation in an interview with WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes, saying that Trump won the primary “fair and square” and that he has an “obligation” to honor the results of the primary.
“We are not the Democrats with superdelegates, we are a grassroots bottom-up party, and he got 14 million votes and others did not. And so he won the thing fair and square, it's a democratic process that one would like to think that we'd respect. And I feel as part of my responsibility of this job, all other things notwithstanding, that I have a duty and an obligation to honor this process,” Ryan said.
But the interviews, in which Ryan sounded notably frustrated with the GOP nominee, underscore the long road ahead for the party as they work to unify around their nominee by Election Day. Ryan noted that when he endorsed Trump he wasn’t giving him a “blank check.”
“I did say very clearly, privately and publicly, that if I hear things that I think distort conservatism, that disfigure our principles and our values as Republicans, I'm gonna speak out and defend ourselves so that people in this country don't get a misperception about who we are and what we believe in,” Ryan said.
And he acknowledged, “I’ve had to do that from time to time, more than I certainly wanted to.”
Ryan also had harsh words for his primary challenger, who has adopted some of Trump’s rhetoric and tone on immigration in his effort to defeat the Speaker. Nehlen this week said he was open to deporting American Muslims who follow Sharia Law from the U.S.
"This is not Wisconsin conservatism, Wisconsin Republican, and that kind of dark, grim, indefensible thinking comments is going to be thoroughly rejected and repudiated on Tuesday, I believe,” he said of the upcoming primary.
In comments that could’ve just as easily referenced Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail this cycle, Ryan added of Nehlen’s openness to deporting Muslims: “I, for the life of me, have a hard time understanding the kind of thinking behind this, but unfortunately we see some of it these days."