GREEN BAY, Wisc. (NBC News) — Donald Trump endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain on Friday, ending the latest episode in a monthslong feud at a rally in Green Bay.
“We will have disagreements, but we will disagree as friends and never stop working together toward victory, and more importantly toward real change,” Trump said. “So in our shared mission to make America great again, I support and endorse our speaker of the House Paul Ryan.”
“He’s a good man,” Trump said. Trump also endorsed McCain and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. “Arm-in-arm, we will rescue the nation from the Obama-Clinton disaster,” Trump said.
Trump’s decision to endorse Ryan marked a rare change of heart for Trump, who’s become known for digging in on insulting his opponents and critics, and infrequently admits a mistake.
But the endorsement was more of a boon for Trump than Ryan, Wisconsin Republicans said, as Trump’s decision to snub the candidate hurt his profile both in Wisconsin and nationwide.
Trump’s initial refusal to endorse in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this week — in which Trump also praised Ryan’s primary challenger, Paul Nehlen — sparked fresh questions over Trump’s viability in the race. Some critics and political pundits wondered this week whether Trump might end up dropping out of the race, as his poll numbers plummeted in key states.
Earlier Friday Ryan brushed off speculation Trump would need to be replaced on the ballot and said it was his “duty” to uphold the results of the GOP primary. But Trump’s move drew a heavy rebuke from Wisconsin Republicans, with Wisconsin House Speaker Robin Vos saying he was “embarrassed” to have Trump as the nominee in an op-ed published Friday.
In it, Vos warned that, “If Donald Trump wants to have a chance to win in November, he should start following Paul Ryan’s lead, not criticizing him,” and suggested that Wisconsin’s activists and operatives would be reluctant to work or vote for Trump if he kept up the feud with Ryan.
In an interview, Vos said he had no indication whether Trump had read his op-ed, but said it was “definitely possible” that Trump’s opposition to Ryan could hurt him in the state in November.
“Paul Ryan’s support is so wide and so deep that Donald Trump wading in on the other side made no political sense,” he said.
While Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the state legislature, and most of the state’s statewide elected officeholders are Republican, the GOP hasn’t won the state in a presidential year in more than 30 years, and this year initially looked like their best shot at turning the tide. To win, however, Trump will need to play in Ryan’s district, which encompasses all or parts of five of the state’s top 10 most populous counties. Three of those five went for Romney last cycle, when he lost the vote by 7 points.
Republicans in the state say Trump will have to boost turnout beyond what Romney achieved in those populous, deep-red counties in the Milwaukee suburbs, and those are populated with Republicans that traditionally pose a challenge for Trump: Upper-middle-class, college-educated white voters. Indeed, Trump lost the district during the primary to Ted Cruz by 19 points.
And dismissing the area’s congressman — who’s viewed favorably by 84 percent of the district’s Republicans and independent-leaning voters, according to a recent Marquette Law U poll — was unlikely to win him many fans in the district.
As Brendan Scholz, a GOP lobbyist and former state party executive director put it, the state’s voters don’t like being treated “like we’re second-rate.”
“It’s like we’re second rate. He smacks us and then he wants our help — seriously? If you beat me up, you punch me in the face, I’m not just going to take it,” he said.