House Speaker Paul D. Ryan was again compelled to speak out against his party’s presidential front-runner Monday, commenting on the violence at Donald Trump’s recent rallies in a radio interview by saying there is “never an excuse for condoning violence or even a culture that presupposes it,” and criticizing those who “stoke anger for political gain.”
“I think the candidates have an obligation to do everything they can to prevent this from happening and to tamp down on any temptation to get this out of control,” Ryan said on WRJN-AM in Racine, Wis., according to a transcript provided by the speaker’s office.
Ryan (R-Wis.) did not mention Trump by name, according to the transcript, similar to two previous occasions where Ryan was compelled to respond to Trump — in December, after he called for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the country, and March 1, after Trump failed to denounce the support of white supremacist David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. But there was no mistaking what he was addressing.
A Friday night Trump rally in Chicago was cancelled amid skirmishes between Trump supporters and protesters; a protester rushed Trump on stage at a Dayton, Ohio, rally Saturday. His recent rallies have been marked by high tensions between protesters and Trump supporters, who have been explicitly encouraged at times by the candidate’s words — encouraging one audience to “hit back” and more recently suggesting that he would pay the legal fees for a supporter who punched a protester last week.
Ryan has continued to maintain his support for whoever wins the Republican presidential nominee, citing his role as chairman of July’s Republican National Convention as compelling him to remain neutral.
Ryan was asked about the tone of the presidential campaign in the context of the remembrances for first lady Nancy Reagan, who died last week at 94. Former secretary of state Colin Powell said last week on CBS that “the campaign has gone into the mud” and hoped that Mrs. Reagan’s death would prompt some reflection and civility.
“I think there is a lot of wisdom in what [Powell] just said,” Ryan said. “You turn on the TV just this last weekend, and you see these images coming from these rallies, which is obviously very concerning.”
Not all of Ryan’s Republican colleagues are laying the blame for the tense rallies at Trump’s doorstep. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) wrote in a Sunday blog post that the “rally disrupters are not the creation of Donald Trump, and his Republican rivals for President should stop saying they are.”
Cramer doubled down in a Facebook post Monday: “Blaming Trump for violence committed by liberal Chicago thugs is like Barack Obama blaming U.S. exceptionalism for radical Islamic terrorism. Ridiculous.”
Ryan said Monday there is “obviously an effort by some on the left to shut down these rallies and to stir unrest,” but “at the same time, I think the candidates need to take responsibility for the environment at their events. There is never an excuse for condoning violence, or even a culture that presupposes it.
“We’ve long been an example to the rest of the world about how a peaceful democracy can work,” he continued. “I think that’s what Colin Powell is talking about. And so, you know, America has been the gold standard of democracy for so long, and I think our candidates have an obligation to honor that tradition. … And so we just need to reject, not only violence, in very clear terms, but I think you’re right about the tone of the campaign.”
Ryan’s plan for the coming year of using the House to develop a campaign agenda to promote conservative ideas has been deeply complicated by the enduring popularity of Trump, who has fed off the raw anger of the electorate rather than any desire for think-tank-endorsed policy prescriptions.
But he said Monday that he is optimistic that conservative ideas would eventually supplant the grass-roots anger after the election: “You see where the common ground exists, overlay these solutions on top of each other, see if the country has given you a mandate, see if they’ve given you the kind of majority you need to put the reforms into place that you ran on. That is the kind of election I’m hoping we have in 2016.”
“People have looked at the last seven years, and they are understandably very anxious, very upset, and hurting,” Ryan added. “But the solution isn’t to call names. It isn’t to stoke anger for political gain. The solution, I think, is to channel that passion into solutions. That’s basically what I’m trying to do, that’s what we’re doing in Congress.”