CLEVELAND ― Paul Ryan, speaker of the House and reluctant Donald Trump supporter, went onstage here before delegates at the Republican National Convention and mustered his best defense of Trump: At least he’s not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
Ryan, who introduced some space between himself and Trump in May by refusing to endorse the then-presumptive nominee, has since jumped on board with the real estate mogul, despite acknowledging racist remarks from Trump, as well as other disturbing trends ― like the nominee’s proclivity for retweeting anti-Semitic images ― since offering his support.
But, on Tuesday, Ryan struck a much friendlier tone with his party’s nominee and a far more antagonistic tone with Democrats. The speaker slammed Obama and Democrats while carefully dodging the most troubling issues with Trump and Republicans, filibustering his own speech with anti-Obama rhetoric and light references to his “Better Way” agenda.
Ryan did offer some praise for Trump. He said the next time there’s a State of the Union address, “I don’t know where Joe Biden and Barack Obama will be, but you’ll find me right there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.”
But the Wisconsin Republican’s address was mostly focused on throwing the pro-Trump crowd red meat.
He called a Clinton presidency “a third Obama term.”
“For a country so ready for change, it feels like we’ve been cleared for takeoff, and then somebody announced we’re all going back to the gate,” Ryan said.
He also went after Obama repeatedly, calling him “the most liberal president ever.”
Despite the lack of substantive praise for Trump, Ryan’s go-after-the-Democrats gambit was well-received among Republicans, with enthusiastic cheers from many pro-Trump delegates.
Meanwhile, Ryan claimed the GOP was “the great alternative party,” while largely avoiding any sort of specifics on the “Better Way” agenda that he was expected to discuss in his speech.
Ryan has been rolling out an agenda in the House, partly as a way for Republicans to differentiate themselves from whatever it is that’s going on this election season.
Though he did not offer a full-throated defense of Trump, Democrats were quick to connect Ryan with his party’s nominee.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) issued a statement even before Ryan took the stage, chastising the speaker for “falling in line with Donald Trump” and “pushing our country into harm’s way, not towards a better way.”
“Ryan is so desperate to get a Republican into the White House that he’s willing to stand on a national stage in support of someone he knows isn’t qualified for the office,” Ray Luján said. “House Republicans will have to explain to voters this fall why the racist, bigoted, egomaniac Donald Trump is their standard-bearer.”
As for Ryan, his argument for Trump seems to be no more complex than Trump will sign GOP legislation and Clinton would not.
“None of this will happen under Hillary Clinton,” Ryan said. “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way.”
“The Obama years are almost over,” Ryan added. “The Clinton years are way over.”