House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, urged his party to unite against Hillary Clinton, downplaying the intra-party disputes of the GOP primary process as "signs of life," but mentioning Trump only twice in his prime-time address.
Ryan called on Republicans to support a reform agenda in a year that voters in both parties want a "clean break from a failed system."
"What does the Democratic Party establishment offer? What is their idea of a clean break? They are offering a third Obama term, brought to you by another Clinton," he said.
Before Melania Trump raised questions with a primetime address that appeared to borrow lines from a 2008 speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, Republicans’ first day in Cleveland was dominated by a public feud between Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Trump campaign and a messy anti-Trump delegate fight on the floor of the convention over party rules.
Ryan, who has worked for months to keep Republicans together behind a controversial nominee he’s repeatedly criticized, called for Republicans to make 2016 a referendum on President Obama's leadership.
Progressives, he argued, "deliver everything except progress."
"Only under Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way," he said.
The Wisconsin Republican -- who breaks with Trump on nearly every significant policy proposal the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has put forward -- hasn’t been shy about acknowledging his differences with Trump, in both style and substance.
Ryan’s delicate balancing act was on full display in June, when -- not even a week after quietly endorsing Trump in his hometown paper following a month of indecision -- he forcefully rebuked Trump’s attacks against a federal judge.
“We’re different people. And we have frank exchanges, frank discussions. He does listen,” Ryan said of his relationship with Trump at a Wall Street Journal event Monday. “I won't get into private conversations but there are things that I just take issue with.”
He also accused Democrats of playing identity politics, and predicted that next week's Democratic convention would be a "four-day infomercial of politically correct moralizing."
"Let the other party go on and on with its constant dividing up of people," he said, pressing Republicans to expand their reach.
"Real social progress is always a widening of the circle of concern and protection."
Ryan, who has praised Trump’s performance in the GOP primary, has described the election as a “binary choice” between Trump and Clinton, and argued that any effort that doesn’t help Trump will contribute to a Clinton victory in November.