MADISON, Wis. — As House Speaker Paul Ryan walks a fine line on Donald Trump — withholding his support, at least for now — some voters back home in his congressional district applaud his effort for the greater good of the GOP.
And they concede it’s unlikely to make a bit of difference in changing the Republican presidential candidate.
“He’s too much of a loose cannon,” 53-year-old Mike McCann said of Trump.
In Janesville, Wisconsin, Republicans and Democrats alike mostly found no fault with Ryan’s stunning comments last week that he’s “just not ready” to back Trump. The two men will meet on Thursday on Capitol Hill. They don’t see Ryan facing any consequences in his re-election bid against a longshot primary challenger, but neither do they see Ryan persuading Trump to tone down his provocative rhetoric or otherwise fall in line with the party.
“I think he’s a very smart, reasonable, honorable man, who is trying to get his party organized and whole again,” Lynn Westphal, a 55-year-old nurse and self-described independent, said of Ryan.
In an interview at a Main Street cafe just across from Ryan’s Janesville office, Westphal said she thought Ryan was handling the situation “the best he can.” Patty Schumacher, a 59-year-old banker and independent, agreed.
“It’s going to take a bigger push than just him,” she said.
Her sister, 61-year-old Maryanne Kessel, chimed in: “But he’s a good one to lead it.”
Ryan was first elected to the House in 1998 and represents the southeast corner of the state along the Illinois border. He was tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and was elected speaker in October.
His hometown of Janesville is a Democratic, blue-collar, union city in Rock County, still reeling from the closure of its General Motors plant in 2009.
The downtown has lost its vibrancy, and the main employers are now Mercy Health System, the school district and the county. The town of around 65,000 is peppered with people who are Ryan’s old high school buddies, are friends with his wife or worked on his campaign.
“What I like about Paul is he calls a spade a spade,” said Dave Dobson, who leans Democratic but said he would back Ryan for president if he entered the race. “He doesn’t play political games.”
Dobson, a siding and window contractor, poured two overflowing spoons of sugar into his coffee as he joined his friends at the counter of Citrus Cafe. MSNBC played above the bar, running coverage of Ryan telling a reporter earlier that morning that he would step down as chairman of the Republican National Convention if Trump wants.
Miguel Maravillo, a 40-year-old worker at a Mexican grocery store in Janesville who criticized Trump’s generalizations about immigrants, said it was brave of Ryan to voice his hesitation. Maravillo said in Spanish that many people criticize Trump in private, but they don’t say it “to the four winds.”
Trump didn’t do all that well in the district, finishing well behind Ted Cruz in the state’s April presidential primary. And even the Trump supporters here had few harsh words for Ryan.
“I think we need Ryan on board, but I understand,” said Kevin Anderson, a 49-year-old welder who lives in Beloit, just south of Janesville.
In a series of interviews here, no one gave much of a chance to Ryan’s primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, even though Sarah Palin vowed to work against Ryan.
In fact, many said they still held out hope that Ryan would change his mind and join the presidential race. That included Anderson, the Trump backer.
“I almost wanted it to go to a contested convention,” Anderson said.
But McCann, a pharmacist who usually votes Republican, is holding out for a Ryan candidacy in 2020.
“I don’t think this is his time yet,” McCann said.
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