- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan flatly ruled out being drafted as the Republican presidential nominee at a contested convention this summer, saying Thursday that as chairman of the proceedings he would be a neutral arbiter, not favoring any one candidate over another.

He made the comments as Republicans intensified debate over whether they could tolerate Donald Trump as their standard-bearer heading into the November elections, with anti-Trump forces rallying.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who for years has been one of the most ardent Senate Republican opponents of Sen. Ted Cruz, said he would support the Texan because he considers him to be the better alternative in the three-man field to stop Mr. Trump.

Erick Erickson, a prominent figure in conservative media, said grass-roots conservatives met Thursday to brainstorm ways to stop Mr. Trump at a convention or beyond, possibly by recruiting an independent candidate to challenge the businessman.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said he wouldn’t accept an attempt at the party’s convention in July to make him the alternative.

“It’s not going to be me. It should be somebody running for president,” Mr. Ryan said at his weekly press briefing at the Capitol.

Mr. Ryan said he made a decision over a year ago not to run for president and that the candidate should be someone who is actively campaigning for the White House.

“So let’s just put this thing to rest and move on,” he said.

The increasing likelihood of a contested convention is partly what has stirred chatter about Mr. Ryan again despite his repeated refusals.

Mr. Trump said Wednesday on CNN that he thinks riots would erupt if he heads into the convention with the most delegates but isn’t nominated.

“Nobody should say such things, in my opinion, because to even address or hint to violence is unacceptable,” Mr. Ryan said when asked about the comments.

“If anybody, not just Donald Trump, if anybody is out there representing the Republican Party in ways that we believe disfigure conservatism or do not portray what our views and principles are, I, as a party leader, and others, I assume as well, have an obligation to defend our principles from being distorted,” he said. “And we’re going to continue doing that.”

In December, Mr. Ryan denounced Mr. Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, he said candidates seeking the Republican nomination need to reject any group built on bigotry, after some said Mr. Trump didn’t sufficiently reject the support of former KKK leader David Duke in one interview.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said this week that he advised Mr. Trump in a phone conversation that it might be a good idea to condemn the violence at some of his campaign events.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has touted recent conversations he has had with Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell and has urged the party to coalesce around his campaign.

Some in the party, though, are bent on denying Mr. Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination before the convention, in the hopes of giving the nomination to another candidate.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who dropped out of the race after a disappointing finish in his home state’s primary Tuesday, told reporters Thursday that he hopes there is still time to stop Mr. Trump.

“Hopefully, there’s time to still prevent a Trump nomination, which I think would fracture the party and be damaging to the conservative movement,” he said, making clear that he is not interested in becoming anyone’s vice president.

The latest delegate tally, according to The Associated Press, has Mr. Trump with 673, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with 411 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 143.

Mr. Cruz said Mr. Trump’s comments about the convention weren’t surprising.

“Well, listen, no one should be surprised that Donald Trump is trying to stir up riots,” Mr. Cruz said Wednesday on Fox News’ “The Kelly File.” “I wish we had a presidential candidate that was bringing us together instead of encouraging such things.”

On social media, Mr. Kasich called the language “unacceptable.”

“This implicit acceptance of violence is the kind of rhetoric that’s pulling people apart,” Mr. Kasich said Thursday in a tweet signed “John.”

Mr. Cruz also accused Mr. Trump of ducking the Republican presidential debate that had been scheduled for Monday. The debate was ultimately canceled after Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t attend and Mr. Kasich’s campaign said he wouldn’t participate without Mr. Trump there.

“The field is narrowed even more and he could have had a direct debate with me, and yet Donald apparently is ducking. He’s afraid of being challenged,” Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Trump said he had a commitment to speak at a policy conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. His campaign said Thursday that online polls and voters have shown that Mr. Trump won all the debates and that he was looking forward to speaking to AIPAC.

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