Preaching unity, Ryan professes no regrets about endorsing Trump

June 16 -- Asked if he would consider rescinding his endorsement of Donald Trump if the presumptive GOP nominee continues to say controversial things, Paul Ryan said, "I don't have a plan to do that." Bloomberg
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has had no second thoughts about endorsing Donald Trump for president, despite wishing "he would do and say things differently."
"I don't look back. I don't have second thoughts. Obviously he's said and done things that I don't agree with since I did this," Ryan said in a one-on-one interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In explaining his endorsement of Trump two weeks ago, Ryan talked far less about Trump's merits as a candidate than about his own role as speaker and desire not to exacerbate the fissures in the Republican Party.
"I hope he improves the tone of the campaign," Ryan said of his party's presumptive nominee. "But I made my decision as the speaker of the House and a leader in our party, based upon the belief that I did not want to be a party toward ripping our party in half, and basically denying us the White House and harming us in securing our majority again."
The Janesville, Wis., Republican now frequently finds himself defending his support for Trump while distancing himself from the candidate's most provocative rhetoric and polices. Asked about Trump's recent comment that Republicans in Congress should "just please be quiet" if they can't be supportive, Ryan said he will continue to speak out when he feels it's necessary.
Since his endorsement, Ryan has criticized Trump for what he termed "racist" comments about a judge of Mexican heritage, and has reiterated his opposition to Trump's proposal for a Muslim immigration ban.
"If I am asked a question, I am going to give an honest answer," said Ryan. "I have to defend conservative principles and I have to make sure people understand what conservatism is and what Republicans stand for."
Referring to Trump, Ryan said: "Do I wish he would say and do things differently? Of course I do, but that's not in my control. And so that's not something I can spend my time worrying about ... But I do have a responsibility to make an attempt to unify our party going forward so that we're strong."
Asked if he would have approached the endorsement decision differently if he were still a committee chairman and not the leader of the House, Ryan said, "I'm not doing the hypothetical stuff. Nice try."
Ryan said that in Trump's case, "the public persona and the private person seem to be two different people at times. And I'm hoping that the public person is like the private person, and I do hope that the tone improves and the campaign is one that's a unifying campaign for all Republicans, so that not only can Republicans unify but we can go out and win converts. We can't just win this election by only getting the Republican vote."
Ryan said he did not have a problem with GOP colleagues in Congress who have refused to support Trump. Those colleagues include fellow Wisconsinite Reid Ribble, who says he regards Trump's temperament and demeanor as disqualifying.
"I think people are going to make their own minds up ... I wouldn't tell a person to do something that they believe violates their conscience," said Ryan. "I'm not going to hold an individual person's decision against them."
Asked about the biting criticism he has received over his Trump endorsement from some anti-Trump conservative activists and commentators, Ryan said: "People feel very strongly about this. And I understand the range of opinions, and I don't know that everybody has one right answer. I think each of us has different roles to play."
In one notable critique, conservative columnist George Will referred to Ryan's decision to back Trump as a "capitulation" and "degradation."
"I've got thick skin. I can take those kinds of criticisms," Ryan said. "I would just simply remind people that as the speaker of the House, I don't think it's ever been done before where the speaker has not supported the party's nominee who was selected by the voters, the Republican voters, to be the nominee ... I didn't want to be a leader of guaranteeing that our party is disunified in the fall."
Ryan's public standing in his home state hasn't changed since he endorsed Trump, according to a Wisconsin poll released Wednesday by the Marquette Law School. He was viewed positively by 49% of registered voters and negatively by 32% — almost identical to his March numbers.
In the same survey, 70% of GOP voters in the state said Ryan made the right decision in endorsing Trump, but a quarter of Republicans and a majority of independents called it a mistake.
The poll also suggested a striking degree of pessimism within the party, with almost half of GOP voters in Wisconsin saying they expected their party to remain divided through the November election.
Ryan agreed that was a striking finding.
"I think people are looking at the moment ... and they see Republicans arguing with each other and so they project that current view going forward," he said.
Asked about the varying degrees of worry, alarm and panic that some Republicans are feeling and expressing about this election cycle, Ryan said, "We've got a long ways to go."
Asked if he shares those concerns, he said:
"Of course, I want to win. (And) the last thing I want to do is echo such concerns because I don't want to amplify them. I want to unify and win."

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