WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday decried ugliness and divisiveness in American politics, delivering a veiled but passionate rebuke to GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and the nasty tone of his campaign.
“When passions flair, ugliness is sometimes inevitable. But we shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm,” Ryan told an invited audience of congressional interns on Capitol Hill.
“If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us,” he said.
The Wisconsin Republican never mentioned Trump’s name or that of any other candidate, Republican or Democratic. But his target was clear in a sometimes frightful campaign season that’s featured insults, sucker-punches and near-riots more often than substantive policy debates.
“It did not used to be this bad, and it does not have to be this way,” Ryan said.
“We are slipping into being a divisive country,” he said. “If we’re going to keep this beautiful American experiment going we’re going to have to stay unified.”
The speaker has remained officially neutral in his party’s presidential contest so far, even as other GOP leaders have openly searched for ways to prevent Trump from clinching the nomination before the party’s July convention in Cleveland.
He has tried to avoid commenting on Trump’s candidacy, while saying repeatedly that he intends to support the eventual GOP nominee.
Ryan, his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, has said he is not interested in running for president should the current candidates falter. He said the same thing last fall about becoming speaker but was eventually drafted into the job after John Boehner, R-Ohio, was pushed out by conservative hard-liners.
Ryan delivered his remarks Wednesday in the lofty hearing room of the Ways and Means Committee, which he previously chaired. The speech came on the final day of congressional work ahead of a two-week spring recess.
Associated Press reporter Erica Werner wrote this report.