Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Thursday he is not yet ready to back his party's presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying the candidate needs to reassure conservatives before earning his support.
In a striking interview on CNN, Ryan said he's "not there yet" on supporting Trump, who effectively clinched the GOP nomination this week with a win in the Indiana primary that forced his remaining rivals from the race. Ryan, the highest-ranking elected Republican, said he has serious doubts about Trump's commitment to conservative principles and GOP standards, saying the burden is on Trump to unify the party he hopes to lead.
“Conservatives want to know does he share our values," Ryan said. "There are lots of questions that conservatives are going to want answers to."
Ryan said if Trump hopes to bring together the Republican Party, he must provide "something that they're proud to support and proud to be a part of."
"It's time to set aside bullying, it's time to set aside belittlement," Ryan added. "I think what a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard bearer that bears our standards."
The words were a stunning rebuke of the presumptive GOP nominee and are set to slow efforts by Trump and the Republican National Committee, led by Ryan ally Reince Priebus, to unify the GOP behind Trump. Ryan spoke hours after the news broke that George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Mitt Romney will all skip the GOP convention and won't endorse Trump. His remarks give rank-and-file Republicans cover to break with the bombastic and controversial presumptive GOP nominee, whose candidacy could imperil Republican majorities in Congress.
"The bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee," Ryan said.
Going out of his way to avoid saying Trump's name, Ryan repeatedly referred to Trump in the third person as "this man," saying he hopes to eventually be in a position where he can back Trump. "I hope to support our nominee. I hope to support his candidacy fully," Ryan said. "At this point, I'm just not there right now."
Ryan was silent on what he would do if Trump doesn't meet his standard, but said he wouldn't back the likely Democratic nominee. "No Republican should ever think about supporting Hillary Clinton."
Ryan's comments are all the more notable given that he is set to be the permanent chairman of the GOP convention in Cleveland in July.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, Trump responded to Ryan, saying he is not yet ready to support the Speaker's agenda, suggesting Ryan didn't have the best interests of the American people at heart.
"I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda," Trump said in the statement. "Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that is about time for politicians to put them first!"