WASHINGTON — Donald Trump endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday, moving to mend an intra-party rift that has put the Republican presidential nominee at odds with its highest-ranking elected official.
Trump’s endorsement of Ryan came at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“We will have disagreements, but we will disagree as friends and never stop working together toward victory. And very importantly, toward real change,” Trump said, reading off notes. “So in our shared mission, to make America great again, I support and endorse our speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.”
Trump earlier in the week had declined to endorse Ryan, as well as Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. But he then endorsed the Arizona and New Hampshire senators in their primary races.
“And while I’m at it, I hold in the highest esteem Sen. John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office, and I fully support and endorse his re-election. I also fully support and endorse Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire,” Trump added.
The move comes just days ahead of Ryan’s Tuesday primary matchup with challenger Paul Nehlen, who has played up Trump’s refusal to back the speaker — as well as Ryan’s tepid support for Trump.
It’s not clear that Ryan is keen to receive Trump’s endorsement. He repeatedly told Wisconsin radio stations in recent days that he’s only seeking endorsements from the voters in his district, and a Ryan aide said he hadn’t received word as of early Friday afternoon of Trump’s plans.
“We have no knowledge of this and it’s a question for their campaign,” the aide said.
Nehlen praised Trump for the endorsement, saying in a statement it showed “true leadership.”
Trump had balked at endorsing Ryan on Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post, a move that intensified concerns about his presidential campaign within the GOP as Trump already faced controversy over his criticism over the weekend of the parents of an American soldier killed in combat.
“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet,” Trump said in the Post interview.
The remarks infuriated many in the Republican establishment, and a GOP source told CNN Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was especially frustrated because Ryan and Priebus, both from Wisconsin, are very close. On Friday, Priebus announced that he and his wife voted for Ryan.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, did endorse Ryan the following day — a move that both Pence and Trump have said occurred with Trump’s blessing.
“I strongly support Paul Ryan, strongly endorse his re-election,” Pence, a longtime congressional colleague of Ryan’s, said in a phone interview with Fox News. “He is a longtime friend. He’s a strong conservative leader. I believe we need Paul Ryan in leadership in the Congress of the United States.”
Ryan told WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes, a Wisconsin talk radio host, on Friday morning that he hadn’t spoken with Trump since the Republican convention ended last month.
Ryan, who withheld his own endorsement of Trump for weeks after Trump had clinched the party’s nomination, deflected Sykes’ questions about whether he might withdraw that support.
“I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals,” he said. “I see no purpose in doing this tit for tat petty back and forth with Donald Trump cause it serves no good purpose in my mind.”
Ryan had dismissed the importance of a Trump endorsement Friday morning in another local radio interview with WISN’s Jay Weber.
“I’m not going to try and psychoanalyze this stuff,” the House speaker told Weber. “Honestly the endorsement, personally the ones that I care about are the ones from the people here in Wisconsin, my first congressional district employers. So you know I’m just going to rise above this stuff, and I’m not going to get involved in some sort of petty back and forth, I see no purpose in doing that.”
Trump surrogate Ben Carson told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a Friday interview that he believes Trump “will come on board” with Ryan, though he did not specify when.