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The Lead with Jake Tapper

GOP Divided over Trump; Interview with Rep. Paul Ryan. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired May 05, 2016 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:05] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Brooke. Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper, our politics lead right now. Republican lawmakers now face a choice that might baffle King Solomon. Split the Republican party or give it to the last person you want to give it to by unifying around the most unlikely, and some critics say, the most un-Republican nominee in the party's history? Donald Trump, for better or for worse, will lead the GOP into November. In just minutes, my exclusive interview with house speaker Paul Ryan. Will he endorse Trump? What does he think? The party's base wed itself to Trump, but some Republican thought leaders, senators, governors, former presidents, members of the house, they're already refusing to walk down the aisle with the soon-to-be nominee. Sunlen Serfaty is here with me in Washington. And Sunlen, if Donald Trump thought the establishment was going to get behind him after he clinched the nomination, well, he is mistaken.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. You know, there are some who are lining up behind Donald Trump, but there still is very much this war raging on between Trump and factions of his own party, still reluctant to embrace him as the nominee.


SERFATY: The presumptive GOP nominee is facing a new wave of defiance within his own party. For the last five Republican presidential nominees are now skipping the GOP convention.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I went through a very rough primary where I was very harsh on some people like Jeb Bush, and you wonder why the Bush family wants to sit it out, and when I hear that they're going to sit it out, I think that's fine. I don't care if they sit it out.

SERFATY: This as some prominent never-Trump Republicans are also working into overdrive to draft a third party candidate to run against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, it's not over yet. We can still stop him and I would like to.

SERFATY: Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse, posting this open letter, asking of those who say their only choice is Trump or Clinton, why is that the only choice? Sasse calling for voters to rally around a third party candidate, writing, I think there is room, an appetite for such a candidate. But the problem -- no such candidate has stepped up yet.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do not want, nor will I accept the nomination for our party.

SERFATY: Meantime, some panic is setting in about Trump's potential effect on down ballot candidates. Arizona Senator John McCain expressing concerns to donors at a closed-door fundraiser last month, according to a recording obtained by CNN.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being Hispanic vote, I have no doubt that this may be the race of my life.

SERFATY: But Trump, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, is signaling he's moving forward.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So the general election campaign, from your perspective, starts today?

TRUMP: Essentially it started. Yes, it started today. It started actually three months ago when I hit her pretty hard and she went down --

SERFATY: Among the items on his to-do list, organize a list of vice presidential options.

TRUMP: I think probably in terms of the vice president, I am going to go the political route. I don't need to go the business route, I've got that covered.

SERFATY: Trump shooting down some names being floated.

TRUMP: No, not Nikki Haley. No, Nikki Haley, no. She wasn't under consideration.

SERFATY: But indicating openness to some former rivals.

TRUMP: Maro's a good guy, a really nice guy and I like him but not necessarily with respect to any position, but it could happen.

SERFATY: And announcing today his national finance chairman, building out a fundraising operation for the general election fight ahead.


SERFATY: And as Donald Trump tries to consolidate support within the party, sources tell CNN that Trump's campaign met today with roughly a dozen Hill aides on Capitol Hill and are working on setting up a meeting between Trump and some key congressional leaders soon. But Jake, as of now, no definitive date has been set for that.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

And joining me now, the speaker of the house of representatives, former Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. Speaker Ryan, thanks so much for joining us.

RYAN: Thanks for having me Jake. How are you doing today?

TAPPER: So Mr. Speaker, you have said throughout this process that you will support the Republican presidential nominee. Now you have a presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. Will you support him?

RYAN: Well, to be perfectly candid with you, Jake, I'm just not ready to do that at this point. I'm not there right now, and I hope to though and I want to, but I think what is required is that we unify this party and I think the bulk of the burden of unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee. I don't want to underplay what he accomplished. He needs to be congratulated for an enormous accomplishment, for winning now a plurality of delegates, and he's on his way to winning a majority of delegates, but he also inherited something very special, that's very special to a lot of us. This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp, and we don't always nominate a Lincoln and a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln and Reagan-esque.

[16:04:59] That that person advances the principals of our party and appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans, and so I think what is necessary to make this work, for this to unify is to actually take our principles and advance them and that's what we want to see. Saying we're unified doesn't in and of itself unify us, but actually taking the principles that we all believe in, showing that there's a dedication to those, and running a presidential campaign that the Republicans can be proud about, and that can actually appeal to the majority of Americans, that, to me, is what takes it unify this party.

TAPPER: So you're saying you can't support or endorse him right now?

RYAN: Yes, I am basically saying that. Look -- I thought about this two days ago. I thought actually this thing was going to go to June 7 at the very least, probably to a convention, and so this is all pretty new for us, but at this point, I think that he needs to do more to unify this party, to bring all wings of the Republican Party together and then to go forward and to appeal to all Americans in every walk of life, every background, a majority of independents and discerning Democrats, and so I think conservatives want to know, does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the constitution. There are lots of questions that conservatives I think are going to want answers to, myself included. And I want to be a part of this unifying process. I want to help to unify this party but we have to unify it, I think, for us to be successful. For us to have a campaign that Republicans are proud of going forward that is unifiable and that actually can go and appeal to the vast majority of Americans.

TAPPER: Well, Mr. Speaker, you're casting this in characteristically optimistic and positive terms, and I would expect no less from you, but what you're saying is a fairly dramatic announcement that the speaker of the house cannot, as of now, support his party's nominee for president. Is there something specific that he has done or said that's brought you to this moment? RYAN: Well, like I said, I hope to support our nominee. I hope to

support his candidacy fully, and I want to do that, but right now, I've got to tell you, Jake, just being candid with you, at this point, I'm just not there right now. And it's because I think a part of the last campaign -- I don't want to go back and roll the tape. Look, I was pretty clear and I was outspoken a number of occasions where I think that he did the wrong thing and said the wrong thing, and I'll do that in the future if need be. I hope it's not necessary, but I think what a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard-bearer that bears our standards and that unifies all the wings of the Republican Party, which we all come from different wings of our party, but we all agree on a common platform of conservative principles. We want somebody who takes these conservative principles, applies them to the problems, and offers solutions to the country that a vast majority of Americans can vote for, that they want to be enthusiastic about. That is what I think it takes to unify the party. I think there's work that needs to be done in order to unify the party. I think our nominee, our presumptive nominee needs to do that. I want to be a part of helping him do that. But right now, no. I think that there's some work to do here.

Let me say it this way -- Republicans have been watching each other go after each other for six months. The Democrats are doing the same thing because we've had a primary, a bitter primary process. And I think we sometimes forget just how successful we have been. We have the biggest house majority since 1928. We have 54 Republican senate seats. We have state legislative majorities and governorships that we haven't seen in years and decades. And so we've done extremely well. Our party is having, enjoying success because we've unified around common conservative principles, and we have one more hill to climb, one more mountaintop. That's the presidency.

So please know that we think the stakes are extremely high. They're the highest they've been. The Supreme Court, Congress, the future of America is on the line, and no Republican should ever think about supporting Hillary Clinton. Let me make that clear. But for us to be a successful party, to climb that final hill and win the presidency, we will need a standard-bearer that can unify all Republicans, all conservatives, all wings of our party, and then go to the country with an appealing agenda that can be appealing to independents and disaffected Democrats. And we have work to do on this front and I think our nominee has to lead in that effort.

TAPPER: As you know, Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, all of them Republican presidential nominees or presidents, have said they're not going to go to the convention in Cleveland. In fact, I want to get your view -- watch this clip of your former running mate, Mitt Romney, talking about Donald Trump earlier this year.


[16:09:50] MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities -- the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.

Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy a hat.


TAPPER: Do you share Governor Romney's views? Trump's a phony, a bully, and a fraud?

RYAN: Look, here is what I think, Jake, and I think you're going to see tapes like that running all fall. The question is, can our presumptive nominee turn things around, unify, and have a different kind of cadence going forward? The way I look at this, Jake, is, it's time to go from tapping into anger to channeling that anger into solutions. It's time to set aside bullying, to set aside belittlement and appeal to higher aspirations, appeal to what is good in us and to lead a country and party to having a vast majority of Americans enthusiastic about choosing a path. That's why I just feel so strongly about the chance and the choice and an opportunity we have in front of us, but for this to work, our presumptive nominee, I believe, needs to unify the party for the party to be unified.

TAPPER: Do you think that's possible?

RYAN: Just so you know, Jake, we're not there right now. Yes, I think it's possible, but we're not there right now, and I think it is possible and we better get on with it, but I think we just need to be honest with each other about these things. And look, yes, I think we can beat Hillary Clinton. Are you kidding me? So yes, I think it's possible and it needs to be possible because so much is at stake.

TAPPER: You don't think the damage has been done?

RYAN: -- and I think our presumptive nominee has a bit of work to do. Say it again?

TAPPER: You don't think that so much damage has been done that it's almost as if it's a lost cause? Because it seems to me, from hearing people like Mitt Romney, hearing Ted Cruz the other day, called Donald Trump a pathological liar on the eve of Donald Trump winning it all. Donald Trump was attacking his father and suggesting that Rafael Cruz might have played a role in the Kennedy assassination. It doesn't seem like there are going to be -- it's going to be possible to build that many bridges. Do you disagree?

RYAN: I am familiar with the points you're making. That is why, among other reasons, basically, as a conservative, I want to see a verification that our conservative principles will be championed, will be run on, will be represented, and will be brought to the public in the country in a way that's appealing for us to be successful. Like I said, we're not there yet. But yes, look, this man is going get the nomination because he earned, he deserved it. He won the vote. And more importantly, I think those of us need to learn a few lessons here. I think there's a bit of humility that each of us needs, especially leaders in congress, which is, he tapped into something in this country that was powerful and people are sending a message to Washington that we need to learn from and listen to, but at the same time, now that we have a presumptive nominee who is going to be our standard-bearer, I think it's very important that there's a demonstration that our standards will be beared, that he will advance our appreciation for limited government, for the constitution, for the proper role of the executive, for the principles that not only built our party but built this country, and how we're going to apply those principles to offer solutions and run a campaign that Republicans can be proud of and run a campaign that Americans can be proud of, and yes, looking back on the primary campaign, I think there are instances and episodes that question that, that's why I, at this point, am not ready to jump in. But I hope we can get there and that's my goal.

TAPPER: You will be gaveling in the convention as the speaker of the house. If he hasn't become this Reaganesque, Lincolnesque, Jack Kempesque nominee that you need him to be, that you want him to be in order for you to say that you support him, what are you going to do? Can you manage the convention if you haven't yet decided that you can support him?

RYAN: Look, I'm just a guy giving you my piece of mind. I'm a lifelong conservative who feels passionate about these principles and how they're necessary to save our country and get us on the right track. We are on the wrong track as a country. If we stay on this road much further with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, it's going to be ugly for this country. And so I desperately want to see us unify on principles and ideas and policies and an agenda and win the hearts and the minds of the vast majority of Americans and speak to everybody, and I am hoping that's where this goes but --

TAPPER: Some stunning words just now from Speaker Paul Ryan, saying he cannot support Donald Trump, the Republican nominee right now. Joining me, Kayleigh McEnany. She's a CNN political commentator and Trump supporter. Also here, CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. Their reaction to Speaker Ryan's interview when we come back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Let's get some reactions to what we just heard from House Speaker Paul Ryan. Joining me now, Kayleigh McEnany. She's a CNN political commentator and Trump supporter. Also here, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp, and CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. We do have some more of that Paul Ryan interview that we're going to air in a second but first I want to get everyone's reaction. Kayleigh, let's start with you. This is a pretty dramatic development. The speaker of the house, a Republican, the vice presidential candidate in 2012 saying that as of now, he cannot support Donald Trump.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, and I have immense respect for Paul Ryan, I want to start there. He's a great figure in our party, but that being said, he, by my count, called for unity 18 times in that interview. We still have the second half that we have yet to hear. If he wants unity so much, he can't wait from behind. He has to take the lead on this and get on board the way that Mitch McConnell has and unify this party. He doesn't have the luxury to sit on the sidelines. It's irresponsible. I don't think it's fair. I think that he should listen to the voters. Donald Trump will have the most votes of any Republican nominee in history. And quite frankly, I think the American people, the Republican voters are a lot smarter than Paul Ryan and the people who aren't getting on board. So I think it's time that the party listen to their voters. I respect Paul Ryan but he needs to take a cue from Mitch McConnell and do what he did.

TAPPER: S.E., I know that you're not a big fan of Mr. Trump. What's your take?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and I am a big fan of Speaker Ryan. He's a man of integrity and deep passion about the future of conservatism, and that's why he's not just going to get on board without making known that this candidate has some problems and has said some controversial things that he can't support. It was essentially, I think, Paul Ryan doing a Jerry Maguire. Help me help you kind of message to Trump, to say, look, I want to get on board. It's not impossible. It's important to unify, but we've got to come together here. There's been some deeply unconservative, unconstitutional policies floated, some of the rhetoric has been damaging. Paul Ryan has been around to see the conservative movement go through the heartache and struggle of trying to rebrand, re- identify, reach new voters, and to see that sort of collapse with this candidate, I know is personally and politically an affront to Paul Ryan.

TAPPER: Dana, you know Paul Ryan very well, the house speaker. He's been saying for months, he's going to support the nominee. Today he says, he can't right now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just want to say, this was a seismic event just now. It was a great scoop, Jake. I really, genuinely thought that you did a great job with the interview because you were really pressing him on what Kayleigh was just talking about, about the unity factor. It takes two to unify, right? And the fact that he is doing this -- he said even in your interview that he was surprised by this, and I talked to a source as you were finishing up the interview that's familiar with Ryan's thinking, he said it did come on very fast. He genuinely did think Cruz was going to stay in this race and he thought this was going to be a contested convention.

But part of the reason why he did this, besides the fact that he was going with his gut, was that, this gives Republicans breathing space, especially the people who are under him, the rank and file house Republicans. It allows them to not be tied to Donald Trump immediately while they try to figure out where things are going with him and the party.

TAPPER: And let's bring our viewers the second part of the interview. Speaker Paul Ryan is going to have to gavel in the convention in Cleveland and set to Coronate Trump as a Republican Party standard bearer. Can he stomach that if Donald Trump doesn't reverse his positions on things like his proposed Muslim ban and more? Let's play that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: You will be gaveling in the convention as the speaker of the house. If he hasn't become this Reaganesque, Lincolnesque, Jack Kempesque nominee that you need him to be, that you want him to be in order for you to say that you support him, what are you going to do? Can you manage the convention if you haven't yet decided that you can support him?

RYAN: Look, I'm just a guy giving you my piece of mind. I'm a lifelong conservative who feels passionate about these principles and how they're necessary to save our country and get us on the right track. We are on the wrong track as a country. If we stay on this road much further with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, it's going to be ugly for this country. And so I desperately want to see us unify on principles and ideas and policies and an agenda and win the hearts and the minds of the vast majority of Americans and speak to everybody, and I am hoping that's where this goes but I don't know that that's where it's going to go. As the chair of the convention, which is something as part of my duty as speaker of the house, I will be the chair of the convention. I'll gavel the convention in, and I'm hoping by then that this will be a unified party. But I think a lot of the burden is on the presumptive nominee to do that, and so we'll see. That's all that I got for you.

TAPPER: But doesn't he have to completely revoke in order to become the man that can unite behind the principles and the policies that you support? Doesn't he completely have to say that he does not support the deportation of 12 million undocumented immigrants, because you disagree with that? That he doesn't support --

RYAN: No, I'm not saying that at all.

TAPPER: He doesn't support banning all Muslims from entering the United States because you don't support that?

RYAN: Look, who am I? I'm not saying --

TAPPER: You're the speaker of the house.

RYAN: He won fair and square on his policies. And yes, he comes from a different wing of the party than the one I do, but I've got to tell you one thing, Jake -- if we don't unify all wings of the party, we're not going win this election. So the question is, what can you do to unify all wings of the party to go forward? And yes, we're going to have policy disagreements. And on the Muslim ban, I spoke out very forcefully on that, and if things like that continue and I feel the need out of conscience to speak out, I'll do that.

I hope that it doesn't come to that, but the point I'm trying to make here, Jake, is you have to unify all wings of the Republican Party in a conservative movement, and then take it to the country so that America, the vast majority of Americans, non-Republicans also have something that they're proud to support and that we're proud to be a part of. And we've got a ways to go from here to there and that's the point I'm trying to make. So of course you're going to have policy disagreements. You always have policy disagreements. Heck, Mitt Romney and I had policy disagreements. So that's just

natural, and it is too much to ask someone to change their policy views that they were duly elected on on some policy dispute. But are we putting our policies based upon the principles that all conservatives and all Republicans share? Limited government, the constitution, the right role for the executive --

[16:25:08] TAPPER: But that's what I meant. I wasn't just citing --

RYAN: -- those are things -- those are the things that we all believe in and we want to make sure our standard bearer bears those standards. That our standard bearer champions those if you want to see a unified party, and that's the point I'm trying to make --

TAPPER: Right.

RYAN: -- which is, I think, for this to be successful, the party needs to be unified and I think he's got some work to do, and I'm happy to help him do that.

TAPPER: I cited those two things not because I didn't think that you had rebuked him on the -- on the Muslim ban -- the temporary ban he proposed. But because they seem to go against, in your view, the principles of the Republican Party in terms of religious liberty, in terms of free trade, in terms of deporting 12 million undocumented workers. But -- I -- I -- that's what I meant. Like those are principles, it's not just policy disagreement, those are principle disagreements you have with him.

RYAN: We got work to do.

TAPPER: David Brock wrote this in the New York Times of the Trump nomination, quote, "This is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walk with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election and the general election slaughter." End quote. Do you see it that way?

RYAN: I don't -- I'm not looking at it like that. I don't think it's right to think about 2017 and beyond. I'm focused on 2016 because I want 2016 and Congress to be successful and where we actually the country's big challenges and get our country back on track. I am focused on the here and now and not the tomorrow. And just, quite frankly, as a conservative, as a lifelong conservative, who has shared these values all my life, I want to see our party unified, and I'd love to see our standard bearer celebrate the principles of our party, apply them to problems, appeal to all Americans and run a principled, solutions-based campaign that we can all be proud of. And I do believe there is work that needs to be done for that to happen. That's the point I'm trying to make. And I'm not worried about what's -- what's after this election. This election right now is the one we need to focus.

TAPPER: Just to be clear, sir, and I hate to be that guy -- I know you hate it when we ask this question -- you're still ruling out --

RYAN: You asked me like three times.

TAPPER: In any -- no, this one, just to be clear. You're still ruling out, in anyway, you accepting any sort of nomination of your party.

RYAN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Mmm-hmm. Yes.

TAPPER: Just wanted to make sure of that.

RYAN: And then last, lastly, sir, just I guess the question is, what are the odds that he's going to be able to become the candidate you want him to be. You said you have a lot of work to be done. But quite frankly, I've been covering him. I've covered you. Is this chasm bridgeable?

RYAN: I think it's possible. But this isn't -- look, don't say this is about me. This is about we the Republican Party, we the conservatives, who want a standard bearer who is going to represent all of the full spectrum of conservatism and unify all factions of the party, but not just that Republicans can be proud of, but Americans can be part of, that can compete for the vast majority of Americans so they can win the election. Like I said, we've been very successful as Republicans.

One more big job ahead of us, and it's no less than the Supreme Court, Congress, and the future of America is at stake. And so for this to be successful, the party needs to be unified and then we have to go out and win converts, and we have to do it in a way that appeals, that's enthusiastic. I believe that that can be done, but right now that's not where we are and that's where we need to get to.

TAPPER: How worried are you about losing the Senate and possibly even the House?

RYAN: Say it again.

TAPPER: How worried are you about Trump dragging down Republicans running for reelection in the Senate and the House?

RYAN: I just don't know that -- I don't think -- one thing I think you can predict of this year, it's going to be unpredictable. So I just don't think you can draw parallels or make projections at this point. So, I just think you always run like every thing's on the line. My focus this fall is, has been, and will be the House Majority. That is primarily my responsibility and what I'm focused on. But I also really love this country and I want to see us win this election so that we can fix this country's problems.

TAPPER: And lastly sir, Mr. Trump said back in March that if you -- he was talking about you -- don't get along with him, you'll quote "have to pay a big price." Are you worried at all?

RYAN: No, I'm not worried about that.

TAPPER: All right, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Thank you so much for your time sir. It's always a pleasure to see you. RYAN: You betcha. Have a good one. Take care.

TAPPER: And we'll be right back with more reaction to Speaker Ryan -- Ryan's stunning comments. Stay with us.