Paul Ryan Criticizes The 'Ugliness' Of 2016 Politics

He won't use Donald Trump's name. But everyone knows who he's talking about.

Assembled Wednesday in a committee room full of congressional interns -- and reporters -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rebuked the disagreeable tone of politics in the 2016 race and even criticized his own use of divisive rhetoric in the past.

From his familiar perch in the Ways and Means room, Ryan told the crowd of interns that, in this space, members used to hold themselves to a "higher standard of decorum."

"We treated each other with respect," Ryan continued. "We disagreed -- often fiercely so -- but we disagreed without being disagreeable."

Ryan said he spoke in the past tense only because he no longer serves on the Ways and Means Committee. "But it almost sounds like I’m speaking of another time, doesn’t it?" he asked.

Ryan's entire speech was an indirect repudiation of the 2016 race. Without naming names -- something he said he wouldn't do during a question-and-answer session after the speech -- the speaker didn't leave much to the imagination as to whom he was most directly referring.

He didn't necessarily need to use the name Donald Trump for everyone to understand that he was talking about the GOP front-runner when he said "personalities come and go," or that when someone has a bad idea, we should tell them, not "insult them into agreeing with us."

"We don’t shut down on people -- and we don’t shut people down," Ryan said.

Democrats will almost certainly point out that Ryan continues to insist he will support the GOP nominee whoever he is, and that his latest "big speech," as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's communications director Drew Hammill characterized it, "cannot distract from Republicans' complete failure to pass a budget."

Still, the speech was surprising for how directly Ryan addressed the 2016 race. He said that "looking around at what’s taking place in politics today," it's easy to get "disheartened."

"How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides?" he asked the crowd.

"Our political discourse -- both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other -- did not use to be this bad and it does not have to be this way," Ryan said.

He continued that a little skepticism was healthy. "But when people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions," he said. "They lose faith in their government, and the future, too."

Ryan told the crowd of interns that they could acknowledge this, but they didn't have to accept it -- and they didn't have to enable it.

In many ways, Wednesday's speech was Ryan's most direct dip into the 2016 race so far. He has previously waded in twice to criticize Trump's Muslim ban and the GOP front-runner's less-than-emphatic disavowal of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke -- again without using Trump's name.

After Ryan's speech, his spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, "As chairman of the Republican National Convention, Speaker Ryan will preside and has to remain neutral on the presidential candidates."

But much of what Ryan said Wednesday could be used as an indictment of his own neutral strategy on Trump.

"My dad used to always say, 'You are either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution,'" Ryan said.

Ryan also reflected on some of his own divisive contributions to American politics. Specifically, Ryan criticized his use of the words "makers and takers" to describe people on government benefits, an admission he has made previously.

"As I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized something: I realized was wrong," he said.

Ryan said "takers" wasn't how he wanted to refer to "a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family."

"Most people don't want to be dependent," Ryan continued. "And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong."

He said he shouldn't have castigated a large group of Americans to make a point. "So I stopped thinking about it that way -- and I stopped talking about it that way."

During the question-and-answer session, Ryan also acknowledged that he had thought about criminal justice in the wrong way. He said Republicans and Democrats in the 1990s just thought they had to be tough on crime. Now, he wants to bring criminal justice reform bills coming out of the House Judiciary Committee to the House floor. "Redemption is a beautiful thing," he said.

Ryan said governing was never meant to be easy. "This has always been a tough business," he said. "And when passions flare, ugliness is sometimes inevitable."

"But we shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm," he continued. "We should demand better from ourselves and from one another."