MADISON — House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a closing argument Friday about the stakes of the election — without ever mentioning the Donald Trump-dominated slugfest consuming the Republican Party.
The Republican congressman didn’t once say Trump’s name in what he billed as a “major” policy address in Madison and a subsequent question-and-answer session with Republican students.
Ryan instead acknowledged the election had taken some “dark” turns and gave Republicans their most explicit warning yet that they must act to prevent the possibility of a Democratic sweep of power in the White House and Congress. He argued that a Hillary Clinton presidency would make America a place of “gloom” and “grayness” and would produce an out-of-control government that twists the law and Constitution and extinguishes liberty.
“That is the America Hillary Clinton wants. And if given control of Washington — if given control of Congress — it is the kind of America she will stop at nothing to have,” Ryan said.
For two straight days, Ryan has avoided questions on Trump. He canceled a scheduled 30-minute meeting with business leaders Thursday. And Ryan’s office pre-screened the questions and selected ones submitted by College Republicans that spotlighted the House GOP’s election-year agenda, according to a source involved with organizing the event.
His actions and comments reflect the dilemma faced by many top Republican leaders in this volatile and unusual election cycle. While they abhor much of what Trump says and fear the long-term damage his rhetoric on women and Hispanics could inflict on their party, they cannot afford to alienate the millions of voters who flocked to Trump in the primary campaign, especially with control of Congress on the line.
In effect, Ryan delivered the kind of detailed ideological argument and rebuttal to liberalism that has been a staple of past Republican presidential election campaigns but which has been almost entirely missing in from the 2016 race.
Ryan, who has endorsed Trump but has said he won’t defend him going forward, was not asked directly about the nominee’s “unshackled” romp across the campaign trail, fierce repudiations of Ryan himself or multiple allegations that the Republican nominee has a past history of sexual assault.
But he told one student to fight elections based on issues and not personalities, in remarks that appeared to be a reference to Trump.
“You can’t beat something with nothing. Don’t get into a personality contest, don’t talk about the latest Twitter storm from somebody. Talk about what you believe and why you believe it,” Ryan said.
He continued: “The kind of election we really want to have — it’s not the one we are necessarily having right now — the one we really want to have is saying we have got ideas and solutions, ‘let’s win this so we have got the right to do it.'”
“Don’t walk yourself into some bizarre personality contest but get into a ideas contest.”
Ryan’s remarks came a day after Trump made a passionate case that a flurry of allegations against him were evidence that the media, the Clinton campaign and the entire political establishment in Washington was threatened by his rise and were in cahoots to prevent him becoming President.
Earlier this week, Ryan provoked Trump’s rage by giving GOP House members license to to run away from the GOP nominee if if would help their re-election races. He has said he will not defend Trump’s most controversial comments but also made known he will not withdraw his endorsement for the GOP nominee.
Trump has denied all the allegations against him carried in media outlets like the New York Times and People magazine and said he will provide substantial evidence to prove they are false.
CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the allegations.
Ryan argued that “Clintonomics” would result in a crackdown against entrepreneurial companies like Uber and Airbnb and would involve new stimulus America could not afford and a “continual stream of massive tax increases.”
He said “liberal progressivism” represented government by elites and repeatedly touted his own six part “Better Way” agenda that includes repealing Obamacare, simplifying the tax code and constraining executive power.