Paul Ryan’s mixed message in Cleveland

     Paul Ryan is shown addressing the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention on Monday morning. Seated at right is state House Speaker Mike Turzai. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    Paul Ryan is shown addressing the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention on Monday morning. Seated at right is state House Speaker Mike Turzai. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    Monday morning, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan made a case to Pennsylvanian Republicans to support the ticket with a message that, if you listened carefully, bore a substantive criticism of Trump.

    When U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke at the morning caucus of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention today, he got nearly to the end of his 15-minute speech before mentioning Donald Trump’s name.

    That’s not surprising. Ryan has been anything but enthusiastic about his party’s nominee.

    But what was interesting was hearing Ryan make a case to Pennsylvanian Republicans to support the ticket with a message that, if you listened carefully, bore a substantive criticism of Trump.

    “We will not win an election by default,” Ryan said early in his speech. “We will not win an election just by saying how bad the Obama years were. We will win the election if we give this country a really clear choice.”

    Between the lines here: Donald Trump speaks constantly about how he’ll bring jobs back, balance the budget, and make us safe, but he rarely offers a shred of detail about how he’ll do it. And that won’t cut it.

    Ryan said he and his House Republican colleagues have developed specific policy proposals for solving America’s problems, including fighting poverty and creating jobs.

    He said they’ve even come with a patient-centered alternative to Obamacare, adding that “it took us six years.”

    He finished not by saying how much he admired Trump, but by saying the election is “a binary choice.”

    “It is Trump, or Clinton,” Ryan said, “That’s your choice. And guess what: We have shown we’ve got the guts. We have shown we’re putting the specifics on the table and that we’re giving the country a choice.”

    I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression there’s a lack of enthusiasm for Trump among Pennsylvania delegates.

    Many who had grave misgivings months ago are now fully on board.

    I spoke to Ash Khare, an engineer from Western Pennsylvania who was not for Trump when he ran for delegate in the April primary. He told me this will be the year the state finally votes for a Republican candidate (which hasn’t happened since 1988).

    “America is ready for a change,” he told me. “Dave, you will tell your grandkids that you were there in 2016 when the change took place.”

    “This is almost like when we signed the Declaration of Independence and dumped the tea in Boston harbor,” Khare said. “A third of the country was against it then, and a bunch of people are against Trump now. But you know what? This country needs a kick in the pants.”

    Khare, by the way, is one of the delegates who told me for a story a few weeks ago that a group of delegates were getting concealed carry permits and would take firearms to Cleveland, both for protection from protestors and as a statement about gun rights.

    Khare wouldn’t tell me whether he was packing today because, he said, he didn’t want to be a target.

    I’d turned my recorder off when he called me back to make a point.

    “I’m not a vigilante,” he said. “I’m a citizen concerned for my safety, my family’s safety, and my friends’ safety. I’m not here for an OK Corral-type war. No.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.