Since U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., endorsed presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump earlier this month, the speaker of the House of Representatives has been almost constantly fielding questions about the real estate mogul's controversial comments and behavior. Even as he has condemned many of Trump’s remarks, Ryan’s endorsement has not wavered.
But in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd that will air Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Ryan could not bring himself to tell other Republicans to follow his lead in voting for their party’s nominee. In fact, he gave all Republicans permission to follow their consciences when it comes to Trump.
“The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that's contrary to their conscience. Of course I wouldn't do that,” Ryan said. “Look, believe me, Chuck. I get that this is a very strange situation. [Trump is] a very unique nominee. But I feel as a responsibility institutionally as the speaker of the House that I should not be leading some chasm in the middle of our party. Because you know what I know that'll do? That'll definitely knock us out of the White House.”
Trump has caused controversy since he entered the 2016 race one year ago, but since becoming his party’s presumptive nominee earlier this spring, the New York businessman has actually ramped up his rhetoric against minorities like Muslims and immigrants.
In addition to his previous comments calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and proposing a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States, Trump said in early June that a Mexican-American judge presiding over a case involving Trump University had an “absolute conflict” because he was of Mexican heritage.
“I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, referring to his plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep undocumented immigrants out of the country.
When asked about the attack on the judge, Ryan said it was “the textbook definition of a racist comment” but reiterated his support for Trump.
“I disavow these comments — I regret those comments that he made,” Ryan said. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
On Thursday, Ryan also emphasized that he did not plan to rescind his endorsement of Trump, Politico reported, despite the candidate doubling down on his claims against the judge and making what many considered an inflammatory speech this week after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, by a Muslim man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Many other prominent Republicans have said they will not support Trump in November, including former 2016 candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as the rest of the Bush family. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., withdrew his endorsement of Trump earlier this month after his comments about the Trump University judge, and other GOP members of Congress might be inclined to do the same now that Ryan has given them license, particularly if they are in tight races of their own come November.