A day after Donald Trump declined to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan in his upcoming primary election in Wisconsin, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, broke with the Republican presidential nominee by offering his own endorsement.
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“I strongly support Paul Ryan, strongly endorse his re-election,” Pence said in a phone interview on Fox News today. “He’s a longtime friend. He’s a strong conservative leader. I believe we need Paul Ryan in leadership.”
Trump told The Washington Post in an interview published on 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’s comments about Ryan and similarly tepid remarks about Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is facing a tough re-election battle — rippled across the political landscape over the last 24 hours, signaling discord between several of the biggest names in the Republican Party.
Pence sought to soothe the perception of any rift with his remarks today, explaining that “it takes time to have relationships together.”
“I think what Donald Trump said is he’s not there yet,” Pence said. “These are two men building a good relationship, and I'm very confident, after Donald Trump’s elected president and Paul Ryan is re-elected to Congress and as speaker of the House, these two men are going to do great things."
The wrangle over Trump’s lack of support for Ryan is not the first time Pence has played the role of mediator since becoming the vice presidential nominee. In the past week, Pence has come to Trump’s defense after Trump’s call for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and after his contentious statements about the Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Pence also pushed back on reports that the campaign was planning an intervention with Trump to address the recent controversies.
“I have never heard anything about a meeting of that kind,” Pence said.
Still, Pence reached out to Trump before going public with his comments today. “I talked to Donald Trump this morning about my support for Paul Ryan. He strongly encouraged me to endorse Paul Ryan in next Tuesday’s primary,” Pence said.
After Trump’s rebuke of Ryan and McCain was made public yesterday, Pence met with McCain before a rally in Phoenix.
The vice presidential candidate later praised McCain in an interview with ABC affiliate KNXV, saying, “Sen. McCain has provided the kind of leadership throughout his career that has stood up for our military, stood up for a strong America,” but Pence did not go so far as to offer an explicit endorsement.