WASHINGTON – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday the Republican presidential nominee must reject any group “built on bigotry,” an admonishment aimed at Donald Trump after the front-runner failed to disavow a white supremacist group in an interview, while Senate GOP colleage slammed his party’s candidates in the race for acting childish.
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there must be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry,” Ryan told reporters after a Republican Party meeting.
“This party does not prey on peoples’ prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals,” Ryan said.
Until now Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate, has tried to stay out of the 2016 presidential race by sidestepping questions. He reiterated on Tuesday he would support whoever becomes the Republican nominee.
But the Republican speaker was clearly unhappy with an interview that Trump gave to CNN on Sunday in which the candidate did not clearly condemn white supremacist support.
Ryan’s comments came as many in the Republican Party struggle to come to terms with the growing possibility that Trump will be their nominee, with some Republicans repudiating him while others offer him their support.
Ryan spoke on “Super Tuesday,” the biggest voting day in the race to pick the 2016 presidential nominees for the November election. A number of Southern states including Virginia are holding contests, and opinion polls show Trump is likely to consolidate his status as the favorite to win the nomination.
“We should be having a serious debate about the policies needed to restore the American idea. Instead the conversation over the last few days has been about white supremacist groups,” Ryan told reporters.
“As you know, I try to stay out of the day-to-day ups and downs of the primaries. But I’ve also said when I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and as a country, I will speak up,” the speaker said. He added that he hoped it was the last time he would have to speak out on the presidential race.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican Party elder who ran against Barack Obama in 2008, meanwhile decried Tuesday the contest for his party’s presidential nomination that at times has devolved into childish taunts.
McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it was “disturbing” that candidates are trading personal insults instead of discussing matters of substance.
His comments came after Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, gave a sobering assessment of Russian aggression and the spiraling Syrian migrant crisis.
“I wish that every American could have heard your testimony today. Maybe we would have a presidential campaign that doesn’t focus on the size of people’s ears and whether they sweat or not,” McCain said.
He was referring to some of the latest personal barbs traded between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, after Trump said Rubio had “really large ears” and mocked him for sweating.
For his part, Rubio has insinuated that Trump might have wet himself during a debate, and drawn attention to the billionaire’s “small hands” and his seemingly fake tan.
“It’s disturbing,” McCain said. “I wish every American could hear your assessment of the situation and maybe we would focus on some of these issues.”
Americans were voting Tuesday in a pivotal day of nomination contests.
Trump is leading the Republicans and Hillary Clinton is the Democratic front-runner.