House Speaker Paul Ryan lamented Wednesday the “disheartened” state of American politics and urged Republicans to focus on substantive policy ideas in a speech that came amid the increasingly caustic GOP presidential race.
“Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is so easy to get disheartened,” Ryan, R-Wis., said to a crowd of House interns in the Ways and Means Committee hearing room. “How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides?”
The speaker, who has avoided weighing in on the presidential campaign, did not directly mention individual campaigns on Wednesday. He did, however, talk about the political discourse of the election and the anger many have seen in this year’s electorate.
“Our political discourse — both the kind that we see on TV and the kind that we experience among each other — it did not used to be this bad, and it doesn't have to be this way,” Ryan said.
“When people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions. They lose faith in their government and the future too,” he added. “We can acknowledge this. But we can’t accept this. And we can’t enable it either. My father used to say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
In the past, Ryan has criticized Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and his failure to quickly disavow support from the Ku Klux Klan, and has urged the Republican front-runner to take some responsibility for the violence at his rallies.
Ryan is in somewhat of a tricky position regarding the 2016 presidential election. He will co-chair the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, as speakers often do, and could end up overseeing tense negotiations if neither Trump nor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wins a majority of the delegates before July. Moreover, he has also frequently been named as an ideal candidate who could unite the party at what may be a fractured convention.
A super PAC aimed at drafting Ryan into the race formed earlier this month, and many conservative supporters have mentioned his name in wistful rumors alongside those of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. But Ryan has largely remained firm that he has no interest in being the party's savior. He told reporters last week that he would not be the Republican nominee.
“Let’s just put this thing to rest and move on,” Ryan said March 17 during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill.
Ryan framed aspects of his speech Wednesday as advice to House interns he wish he had gotten when he was younger. He urged Republicans to focus on talking “about what our country can be” and said it is important for people to challenge each other over substantive policy issues to make the party better.
Politics should be “a battle of ideas, not a battle of insults,” Ryan said. “That’s what it can be, and that’s what it should be.”