Donald Trump finally endorsed US House speaker Paul Ryan on Friday, reversing himself after pointedly refusing to back the highest ranking elected Republican in an interview earlier this week.
In a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Friday night, Trump read his endorsement off a sheet of paper, saying: “In our shared mission to make America great again, I support and endorse our speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.”
“We may disagree on a couple of things but mostly we agree,” he added.
Ryan has pointedly criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim migration to the US, and said that the Republican nominee’s attack on a federal judge was “the textbook definition of a racist comment”. This week, he also disagreed with Trump over the candidate’s running feud with the family of a Muslim American army captain killed in the Iraq war.
An aide to Ryan told the Guardian that the speaker “appreciates the gesture and is going to continue to focus on earning the endorsement of the voters in southern Wisconsin.”
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Trump said earlier this week in an interview with the Washington Post: “I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”
In May, after Trump clinched the nomination, Ryan expressed similar ambivalence about the man who won his party’s support, saying: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.” Ryan eventually endorsed Trump in June, writing in an op-ed: “It’s no secret that he and I have our differences. I won’t pretend otherwise.”
However, in refusing to endorse Ryan, Trump was seen as thumbing his nose at Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee and a leader who has gone out of his way to ensure that party elders treat Trump as a legitimate nominee. Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite and close ally of Ryan, has fought hard to unite a party fractured by its nominee.
Ryan is widely expected to win his primary contest in a landslide this year, but his opponent, businessman Paul Nehlen, has adopted elements of Trump’s message and tone, and shares many of the same support from the fringes of the Republican party. Nehlen gained national attention Thursday by suggesting the deportation of all Muslims from the US.
On Friday, Trump also read out endorsements of senators John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. “While I’m at it, I hold in the highest esteem senator John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office and I fully support and endorse his re-election,” Trump said.
“I also fully support and endorse Seantor Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a state I truly love,” he added. “She is a rising star and will continue to represent the great people of New Hampshire so very well for a very long time.”
In his interview with the Washington Post, Trump attacked McCain, a decorated war hero, because he has “not done a good job for the vets”. He also called Ayotte “weak” and claimed to be beating her in polls, although the two are not competing and the senator has higher favorable numbers than Trump.
Last year Trump cast derision at McCain as well, calling the Vietnam veteran and 2008 nominee “not a war hero” because he was captured. Ayotte faces a tough re-election bid in New Hampshire, a swing state, and has said she will vote for Trump but withheld an explicit endorsement.