House Speaker Paul Ryan just talked to college Republicans about the 2016 election without mentioning Donald Trump’s name a single time.
In a 20-minute speech in Madison, Wis., the nation’s top ranking Republican made only glancing references to the nominee of his own party, noted that he “doesn’t blame” voters who want to sit out the election and argued that emphasized the risks of Democrats winning both the White House and control of Congress.
When asked by a student how to pitch Republicans to skeptical liberals on campus, Ryan responded with what appeared to be a reference to Trump’s habit of tweeting attacks on his rivals.
“Don’t talk about the latest Twitter-storm from somebody,” he said. “Don’t walk yourself into some bizarre personality contest.”
Ryan and Trump’s tenuous relationship has become even more fraught in recent days after a 2005 video leaked last Friday of Trump saying extremely lewd things about women. Ryan nearly withdrew his endorsement of Trump, TIME reported in its cover story this week, and he told House members on a conference call they were free to cut themselves loose from the nominee. Trump retaliated on Twitter, calling Ryan “weak and ineffective.”
At the Madison event, Ryan told the assembled students about the history of liberal progressivism and why he favors conservative values instead. He promoted a blueprint from House Republicans on policy issues. And he acknowledged that college Republicans might be having a rough time lately.
Later, he said he doesn’t blame voters who don’t want to cast a ballot for either Trump or Hillary Clinton. “I know some people are still making their choice,” he said. “I know some people are avoiding making any choice at all. And I don’t begrudge anybody for that. It is certainly easy at a time like this to get bogged down.”
He also made clear that his priority is defending the Republican majorities in Congress, twice emphasizing the dangers of Clinton being “given control of Washington” and “given control of Congress.”