House Speaker Paul Ryan Slams Tone of 2016 Politics as GOP Candidates Spar

PHOTO: House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. holds a copy of the Constitution as he decries ugliness and divisiveness in American politics, March 23, 2016, in Washington.PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
WATCH Speaker Paul Ryan Critiques Prior Political Rhetoric

House Speaker Paul Ryan today called for a return to civility in U.S. politics in a speech on Capitol Hill, criticizing the tone of the presidential contest as Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz battle for the GOP nomination – and over, most recently, Trump’s comments about Cruz’s wife.

“Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults,” he said. “It can be about solutions. It can be about making a difference.”

Ryan’s speech made no mention of Trump or other 2016 candidates, despite its clear reference to the bruising Republican primary and politics that are “scaring” voters.

“As leaders, we need to raise our gaze and we need to raise our game and talk about ideas,” he continued.

The Wisconsin Republican has condemned Trump's call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration into the United States, his hesitancy to distance himself from white supremacist support and violence at his rallies.

Ryan frequently ducks opportunities to respond to the controversial front-runner nearly every day, arguing that his role as House speaker -- and chair of the Republican presidential convention this summer -- is to defend the GOP brand and dispassionately "call balls and strikes" rather than wade into the daily campaign fray.

But he took aim at Trump indirectly today, warning against identity politics directed at voters’ fears.

“Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of ‘our base’ and ‘their base,’ we can unite people around ideas and principles,” he said on Capitol Hill to a room full of congressional interns.

Trump Tuesday threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife, Heidi, after accusing Cruz of being behind a digital ad from an anti-Trump group featuring a nude photo of his wife, Melania.

Ryan also acknowledged a mistake: his past reference to Americans “makers” and “takers” when discussing government assistance and economic policy, which came under fire in 2012 after he joined Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential ticket.

“I realized I was wrong,” he said. "Most people don't want to be dependent, and to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong."

Democrats quickly dismissed Ryan’s address. Adam Jentleson, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s deputy chief of staff, said Ryan was “speechifying on the deck of the Titanic.”

“Speaker Ryan’s words will ring hollow until he backs them up with action and withdraws his support from Donald Trump,” he said in a statement.

Ryan has said he would support Trump should the New York businessman win the GOP presidential nomination, while the speaker has repeatedly tamped down speculation that he is interested in running for president or the GOP presidential nomination this year.