WASHINGTON, D.C. — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence broke with his running mate Donald Trump on Wednesday in endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary re-election fight.
“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.”
Pence’s unambiguous endorsement came the day after his running mate wouldn’t endorse Ryan, but the Indiana governor said Trump was on board with his move.
Pence said he spoke with Trump on Wednesday morning, and the GOP presidential nominee “strongly encouraged me to endorse Paul Ryan in next Tuesday’s primary,” Pence said.
The public split between the running mates comes amid reports that Trump’s campaign is in disarray over a series of unforced errors by the candidate. In the week since the end of the Democratic convention, Trump has doubled down on a feud with the US Muslim family of a service member killed in action, bungled a question about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is now refusing to stand behind popular members of the party.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been at the forefront of the frustration with Trump over not endorsing Ryan, but sources have also told CNN that members of Trump’s campaign are also frustrated with a candidate who is ceding news cycles to the Democrats.
On Tuesday, Trump caused shockwaves when he said he was “not quite there yet” on backing Ryan in an interview with The Washington Post, who faces off against Republican challenger Paul Nehlen next Tuesday.
“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.
According to a source familiar with the Trump-Pence relationship, it’s not unusual for the running mates to take opposite or differing positions by design. In fact, Trump has given Pence wide latitude to speak his mind and has personally encouraged him to stay true to his own ideas, believing Pence is loyal to the campaign.
Ryan challenger capitalizes
Nehlen told CNN earlier Wednesday he wasn’t being used by Trump, but would gladly accept the Republican nominee’s endorsement if it were offered.
“When somebody holds the door open for you and you say, ‘Thank you,’ is that using somebody?” Nehlen said on CNN’s “At This Hour.” “If somebody sneezes and I say, ‘God bless you,’ was somebody used in that transaction?”
Nehlen, who has been running a longshot bid ahead of Tuesday’s election, got a burst of attention this week after Trump delivered a series of hits against Ryan. First, Trump tweeted his thanks to Nehlen after he praised the real estate mogul, and then Trump told the Post he’s “not quite there yet” on endorsing Ryan.
Nehlen said he has not asked for Trump’s endorsement but would love to have it. He then said that Trump could “screw up” the presidential race by endorsing him, but declined to explain what he meant by that.
“I haven’t asked for his endorsement at all. If he gave me his endorsement, I’d be flattered by it. The last thing I’d want is for him to screw up the presidential race,” Nehlen said.
An email request for comment from the Ryan campaign was not immediately returned Wednesday morning. But Ryan spokesman Zack Roday has previously said the campaign would not get in a “back-and-forth” with Nehlen and added that it had never sought Trump’s endorsement.