Ryan: GOP nominee must reject bigotry

Paul Ryan (Photo via Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Paul Ryan upbraided Donald Trump on Tuesday for his slow-moving disavowal of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, saying anyone who wants the Republican president nomination must reject a racist group or individual.

“This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the Party of Lincoln,” Ryan told reporters as voters in 11 states holding GOP contests headed to the polls on Super Tuesday.

At the same time, Ryan reiterated that he will support the eventual GOP presidential nominee.

Never mentioning Trump’s name, Ryan was clearly referring to the billionaire businessman’s appearance Sunday on CNN when he declined to disavow the support of Duke and other white supremacists.

“When I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and a country I will speak up. So today I want to be very clear about something: If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry,” Ryan said.

Trump subsequently disavowed Duke, blaming his interview performance Sunday on a bad earpiece.

His two top rivals – Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas – criticized Trump and said the GOP must condemn white supremacists.

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi argued that “Trump’s radical agenda” reflects the House Republican conference. Pelosi said that while some in the GOP are distancing themselves from Trump, Republicans refused to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds and have blocked renewal of the Voting Rights Act.

“The reality is, Donald Trump is just being more candid about the agenda of discrimination House Republicans have been advancing for years,” Pelosi said in a statement.

On Tuesday, USA Today reported that a group of about 30 African-American students from Valdosta State University were kicked out of a Trump rally by law enforcement officials.

“The only reason we were given was that Mr. Trump did not want us there,” 22-year-old senior Brooke Gladney told the newspaper. The campaign denied any role in their ouster from the event.

Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, bemoaned the current discourse in the GOP and said it was time to get back to focusing on how Republicans would solve the nation’s problems.

“We believe all people are created in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental. And if someone wants to be our nominee they must understand this,” said the Wisconsin congressman.

He said he has tried to avoid commenting on the presidential race but felt a need to speak up.

“I try to stay out of the day-to-day ups and downs of the primary,” Ryan said. “But I’ve said when I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and a country I will speak up.”

Many Washington Republicans are increasingly open about their dismay at the prospect of Trump winning the GOP nomination. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., an advocate of updating U.S. immigration law, said the prospect of voting for Trump is “not a pleasant thought at all …. I’m still holding out hope we don’t have that choice.”

Last month, Trump took a swipe at Ryan, saying the GOP lost the White House in 2012 because the vice presidential candidate was synonymous with a budget that targeted Social Security. That, according to Trump, cost Republicans with seniors.

Ryan rejected that argument on Tuesday, saying he and Mitt Romney won the senior vote by 12 percentage points, “the best performance a Republican ticket has had since 1984 when Ronald Reagan had a landslide election.”

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