House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday he’ll step down as chairman of the Republican National Convention if Donald Trump asks him to do so.
Ryan’s offer comes amid continued resistance by Ryan and other conservatives in the Republican Party to throwing their support behind the party’s presumptive 2016 presidential nominee. It also increases the uncertainty over whether Ryan is pursuing a short-term negotiating ploy or gearing up for a longer-term standoff.
Trump said Sunday on NBC’s "Meet the Press" that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of blocking Ryan from serving as the convention chairman when Republicans meet in Cleveland in July. He said he’d wait to see if Ryan does end up endorsing him.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday that Ryan said in an interview, "He’s the nominee. I’ll do whatever he wants with respect to the convention.”
"He said he would if he was asked to do so," said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, confirming that the speaker responded to a reporter’s question about whether he’d step down as chairman if asked to do so by Trump.
The chairman of the Republican National Convention is traditionally the highest ranking House Republican. Ryan has said he would be as neutral as "Switzerland" in that role.
But last week, Ryan retreated from his pledges to back the eventual nominee and said he’s withholding his support of Trump for now. Trump plans to meet Thursday with Ryan and other House Republican leaders.
What, precisely, Trump can say to Ryan and other reluctant Republicans to gain their endorsements by the July convention remains unclear.
It is just as unclear whether Ryan and other conservatives would get anywhere in demanding that Trump fall more in line with their positions on such issues as trade, military intervention, or domestic spending -- or in getting other concessions from the New York billionaire in terms of campaign demeanor or tactics.
Trump said Monday on Fox Business Network that he hopes his meeting with Ryan on Thursday will be a positive one.
"I think this is a time for unity," Trump said. "And if there’s not going to be unity, I think that’s OK, too. I mean, I’ll go out and I think I’ll do very well. I think I’m going to win the race either way."
In the newspaper interview Monday, Ryan offered few specifics about his concerns about Trump.
"I don’t want to have a conversation with Donald Trump through the media. I want to have a straight conversation with Donald Trump” on behalf of the party and himself, Ryan told the newspaper.
"Let me say this, the man deserves a ton of credit for an amazing achievement, which is to bring millions of people into this party and to have a very impressive victory,” the newspaper quoted Ryan as saying. “At the same time we want to make sure we don’t pretend we’re unified and then go into the fall at half strength."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a blog posting on LinkedIn that Ryan’s statement "that he could not yet endorse Trump was dangerous. It was also in some ways a demonstration of fear and weakness."
Ryan dismissed a suggestion by Trump supporter Sarah Palin that he might be motivated in undermining Trump because he is eyeing a potential White House run of his own in 2020.
"The speaker is not exactly a good stepping stone for president. I think people who know me know that is not my aspiration," said Ryan in the interview. He said any notion of a third-party or independent bid by conservatives this year "would be a disaster for our party. I have communicated that to plenty of people."
Ryan said, "I believe between now and July we will be able to figure out how to unify our party."
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