Mike Pence Splits With Donald Trump on Paul Ryan Endorsement – New York Times


Gov. Mike Pence, aligning himself with the Republican establishment rather than his running mate, broke with Donald J. Trump on Wednesday by endorsing Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s re-election bid, a day after Mr. Trump roiled the party by declaring that he was not yet ready to support the speaker.

“I strongly endorse his re-election,” Mr. Pence, of Indiana, said in an interview with Fox News. “He’s a longtime friend, he’s a strong conservative leader.”

The split between the two members of the Republican ticket over whether to endorse the speaker of the House in his own primary illustrated the party’s glaring divisions. Republican officials are nearing a state of panic as Mr. Trump’s near-daily provocations divert attention from the perceived vulnerabilities of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

“If he makes himself the issue, we’re going to lose,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi and a top lieutenant to Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. “There’s only one guy who can fix this, and that’s Donald Trump. I hope he’s willing.”

While running mates have differed on policy issues in the past, it is unheard-of for them to part ways on such traditionally uncontroversial matters as whether to support the re-election campaigns of other party leaders.

But Mr. Trump, as he has demonstrated time and again, has little regard for the conventions of politics. And he is plainly angry that Mr. Ryan continues to criticize him for his inflammatory remarks. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said “I’m just not quite there yet” when asked in an interview with The Washington Post if he was supporting Mr. Ryan’s re-election.

Mr. Trump’s choice of words sounded familiar: In May, Mr. Ryan said he was “not ready” to endorse Mr. Trump for president (the speaker subsequently did.)

In a phone conversation between Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump on Wednesday morning, according to someone with knowledge of the call, Mr. Trump brought up his Washington Post interview. Mr. Pence, who served in the House with Mr. Ryan, said that while he understood where Mr. Trump was coming from, he personally was inclined to support Mr. Ryan. Mr. Trump agreed that he should.

But it was not just Mr. Trump’s rebuff of Mr. Ryan that was causing difficulties for Mr. Pence: The Republican vice-presidential nominee also happened to be meeting in Arizona on Tuesday night with Senator John McCain, just hours after Mr. Trump said in the same Washington Post interview that he also was not ready to endorse Mr. McCain’s campaign.

Mr. McCain was cordial but direct with Mr. Pence, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting, making clear that he hoped the Indiana governor could help rein in Mr. Trump.

Yet it was Mr. Trump’s slight of Mr. Ryan that was most exasperating to party officials.

The speaker is facing a primary challenge in Wisconsin on Tuesday from a businessman, Paul Nehlen, who is running on a populist platform similar to Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Nehlen came to Mr. Trump’s defense this week after Mr. Ryan implicitly criticized the Republican nominee for ridiculing the Muslim parents of an American soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq. That prompted Mr. Trump to thank Mr. Nehlen on Twitter. And on Tuesday, Mr. Trump told the Washington Post that Mr. Nehlen was “running a very good campaign.”

This flirtation with Mr. Ryan’s challenger has infuriated Wisconsin’s leading Republicans. Gov. Scott Walker, who ran for president himself, and Senator Ron Johnson indicated that they would not join Mr. Trump for a scheduled appearance in Green Bay this week. And Mr. Walker on Wednesday posted a photograph of himself with Mr. Ryan on Twitter, saying,“We stand with Paul Ryan!”

Mr. Walker did not respond to a question about Mr. Trump but said in an email that “Paul Ryan will win because he is totally in touch with his district.”

Mr. Priebus, a Wisconsin native, is also said to be livid over Mr. Trump’s remarks about Mr. Ryan and debating the best way to demonstrate his solidarity with Mr. Ryan, from a formal endorsement to an email publicly stating his support, said three people with knowledge of Mr. Priebus’s internal discussions.

Mr. Priebus has not had a direct conversation with Mr. Trump over the Ryan matter, according to people close to him. But he has been in contact with some of Mr. Trump’s children.

Since endorsing Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan has continued to distance himself from the Republican nominee on several matters, from Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country to his comments criticizing Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Captain Khan’s parents.

Mr. Priebus has made a point of staying neutral in all aspects of Republican primaries, including when asked to speak out against Mr. Trump. Deciding to publicly back Mr. Ryan in his primary would be a step away from that.

For Mr. Priebus, Mr. Trump’s comments about Mr. Ryan were just the latest indignity in a week full of them. Earlier, Mr. Trump had criticized the Khan family for their speech at the Democratic National Convention and implied that Ms. Khan had not spoken because of her religion. Ms. Khan said she did not speak because she was worried she would be overcome with grief.

Mr. Trump’s missteps in the weeks since the Republican convention have spurred a degree of open criticism among otherwise supportive party officials rarely seen since he secured enough delegates for the nomination in May. On Wednesday, two Republican congressman who had expressed misgivings about Mr. Trump, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, said they would not endorse him. The day before, another Republican congressman, Richard Hanna of New York, endorsed Mrs. Clinton. In the Senate, Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, has been outspoken in opposing Mr. Trump.

Party officials are hamstrung — there is no mechanism for removing Mr. Trump as the party’s candidate; he would have to step down himself. Nonetheless, party leaders are said to be furious at the controversies involving him.

There are now active discussions among high-ranking Republican officials about how much longer the party can wait before recasting their focus away from Mr. Trump and toward down-ballot candidates. One adviser to Mr. Priebus indicated that, much as the party did when Bob Dole’s presidential campaign was flagging in 1996, officials may have to turn their attention to congressional and governors’ races as early as next month.

Some Republican strategists, however, have little sympathy for the party committee, noting that it smoothed the way for Mr. Trump’s nomination by aggressively putting down efforts to let delegates vote their conscience.

And, many in the party note, Mr. Priebus can hardly act surprised now about Mr. Trump’s erratic behavior, given his string of inflammatory comments since entering the race. “You would have to have had your eyes wide shut for the last year to think he would act differently in the general than he did in the primary,” said Josh Holmes, a top adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

At a campaign event in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, Mr. Trump seized on national security and terrorism to lash into Mrs. Clinton, suggesting that if he had been president, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would not have happened.

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