US Congress(JANESVILLE, Wis.) — House Speaker Paul Ryan is walking a fine line as he tries to unify the Republican Party by distancing himself from Donald Trump, while still endorsing his candidacy.
It’s a gamble that could save Ryan’s job as speaker or alienate GOP voters and risk the Republicans losing their House majority.
So what do Ryan’s constituents in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, think? Most ABC News spoke with believe the congressman’s decision to stop defending or campaigning for Donald Trump is motivated by self-preservation, but is likely a necessary move.
“I was very surprised to see him do that,” Gwen Wehe told us outside a local ice cream store. “But it’s going to come down to protecting himself and what he believes his party stands for.”
“I’m fine with it,” Ian Boschert told ABC News on Main Street. “He has to protect the House across the country. He has to protect his conscience … He’s not dissociating himself from Trump. But he’s not supporting him either too much. He’s playing the middle … He’s got to do it.”
Another constituent, Mike Havei, said of Ryan, “He shouldn’t have it both ways, but he’s looking to the future … Personally I wish he would say he disavows any contact with Trump, but I can see the political pressures the other way.”
One thing everyone ABC News spoke with agreed on: They want the campaign to have less mudslinging and focus more on issues.
Havei said he’s “aghast at the negativity,” while Wehe said point blank, “It just needs to stop.”
Something else the majority of voters we spoke with have in common: They have no plans to cast a vote for either Clinton or Trump.
“I think we’re a joke to the world, to be honest with you. With Trump, he’s crazy. Hillary, she’s a liar. So it’s like, what do you got?” Kyle Losee said.
Mary Phillip said, “There is lying on both sides. There is corruption on both sides. I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
First-time voter Margareet Marie is so turned off by this election, she may wait another four years to cast her first presidential ballot. “I don’t like either” of the two major candidates, she said.
Marie said she would rather see her hometown congressman at the top of the ticket. “I just feel like [Ryan’s] honest. He’s caring … Honestly, I’d rather have him for president because he knows what’s good,” she said.
Ryan all but split from his party’s nominee in the wake of a Washington Post report on comments Trump made on a 2005 video about trying to grope and have sex with women. The video was shot after Trump married his third wife, Melania.
The Wisconsin Republican said after the video’s release on Oct. 7 that he was “sickened” by Trump’s lewd comments about sexual assault and withdrew an invitation for Trump to appear at a rally in his district the next day.
Ryan’s statement and his uninviting the presidential candidate angered many of the Trump supporters who attended the annual Fall Fest GOP fundraiser in Wisconsin. Republican leaders from the state — Ryan, Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson — were heckled when they appeared on stage in an effort to rally support for down-ballot Republicans and against Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.
“I think they are traitors,” Jean Stanley, a Ryan constituent, said at the rally of her congressman and the many other Republicans who have criticized or withdrawn their endorsement of Trump.
Stanley dismissed the controversy over what Trump said on tape 11 years ago.
“He was a Hollywood star then,” she said.
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