House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday attacked Hillary Clinton in a speech framing the presidential election as a stark choice between liberal and conservative values, without once mentioning embattled Republican Party nominee Donald Trump.
Ryan said the election has taken “some dark — sometimes very dark — turns” without directly addressing Trump or any of the recent allegations that the GOP nominee sexually assaulted women on several occasions over the years. Instead, Ryan argued for the value of conservative leadership in Congress in a midday address to college Republicans in his home state of Wisconsin.
“Beneath all the ugliness lies a long-running debate between two governing philosophies: One that is in keeping with our nation’s founding principles — like freedom and equality — and another that seeks to replace them,” Ryan said.
The speech was followed by a moderated question-and-answer session with the college Republicans in attendance. None of the students, who were called on by moderator Vicki McKenna, asked Ryan about Trump.
Ryan has avoided mentioning Trump in recent days, and in his speech Friday, the speaker attempted to directly contrast House Republicans’ vision for the country against the policies Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, would pursue — an apparent appeal to voters that they should elect congressional Republicans to serve as a check on her possible presidency.
“When Hillary Clinton says we are ‘stronger together,’ what she means is we are stronger if we are all subject to the state,” Ryan said. “What she means is we are stronger if we give up our ties of responsibility to one another and hand all of that over to government.”
House Republicans have been in chaos since last Friday’s publication of a 2005 video of Trump bragging about sexual assault and a flood of new allegations of sexual misconduct by Trump. Ryan announced that he will no longer defend Trump or campaign for the GOP presidential nominee during a Monday morning conference call with lawmakers.
Ryan did not recant his endorsement of his party’s increasingly controversial nominee or rescind his pledge to vote for Trump.
Still, Ryan’s decision to focus solely on campaigning for Republicans running for the House and Senate has sparked angry criticism from some members who felt the speaker should support Trump without conditions.
Trump also has lashed out at Ryan on Twitter as “weak and ineffective.” He bashed other Republicans for “disloyalty,” causing some to worry that Ryan miscalculated in his decision to back away from Trump.
While Ryan did not mention Trump by name Friday, he suggested that he understood voters may feel there is no good choice for president this election.
“I know some people are avoiding making any choice at all,” he said. “I don’t begrudge anyone that.”
Ryan also focused on a House GOP policy agenda that he helped craft in hopes of giving congressional Republicans a substantive platform on which to run separate from the volatile presidential campaign.
“The America we want is about empowering people to flourish and thrive,” Ryan said. “That is why we are taking to the country a bold agenda … a better way that means less government and more freedom … less apathy and more ambition … a way that offers the best of what liberty produces.”
The speech comes amid a furious fundraising period for Ryan in which he raised more than $15 million for House Republicans in the third quarter for a total of $48 million this year.