JANESVILLE, Wis. — Speaker Paul Ryan was booed in his hometown Tuesday, though he wasn’t around to hear it.
The Wisconsin Republican was raising money elsewhere when GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump hosted a rally in Janesville, where Ryan was born and raised and now represents in Congress.
The billionaire, in town ahead of the April 5 primary, brought up Ryan nearly 30 minutes into his remarks at the Janesville Conference Center.
“How do you like Paul Ryan?” Trump asked the crowd. Some applauded, but the vast majority inside the room, and the several hundred listening to the speech on loudspeakers outside, booed.
“Wow,” Trump said. “I was told, ‘Be nice to Paul Ryan.’ Wow.”
“I’m very surprised at this statement. Wow,” Trump said. “Are you all Republicans? Are you mostly conservatives?” The crowd responded to both questions with cheers.
Beth Schmidt, the chairwoman of the Rock County Republican Party, which is partially in Ryan’s district, said she was very surprised by the crowd’s reaction.
“Even some of the people I know that support Trump personally, they do like our congressman. So I was just like, ‘What?’” Schmidt said. “A couple of us were like that. We were like, ‘Where did this come from?’”
Schmidt said the response could be partially attributed to the notion that many in the room were not Ryan’s constituents, and traveled from other areas of the state and the country to hear Trump. A number of protesters came from neighboring Illinois, after violence at a Trump rally in Chicago earlier in March caused him to cancel that event.
Schmidt also pointed out that, as leader of his party in the House and former Gov. Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Ryan could be viewed as part of the so-called ‘establishment.’ Ryan has argued that he is still a Washington outsider who sleeps in his office and travels home every weekend.
But those who support Trump loathe the establishment, Schmidt pointed out.
“I have people who tell me that [Ryan] works hard. They know he’s out there working,” Schmidt said. “Here’s what I think’s happening – he is established—we are anti-establishment right now. … I think you’re seeing that on the Democratic side and I think you’re saying that on the Republican side.”
One Janesville resident, who asked not to be named listened to the speech outside and was also surprised when people began booing Ryan. She speculated it was due to Ryan’s decision to remain neutral in the GOP primary.
Ryan has condemned Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from the U.S., as well as the violence at Trump rallies. Ryan gave a speech decrying the lack of civility in today’s politics, which was widely considered a swipe at the business mogul.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with how credible a guy [Ryan] is or what kind of job he’s done,” she said. “I think it’s Trump supporters want Paul Ryan standing behind their candidate.”
However, the crowd did not have the same visceral reaction to another Republican leader in Congress: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Trump referenced McConnell briefly while discussing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, his opponent in the race for the GOP nomination. Trump accused Cruz of not being productive in the Senate, and arguing that Cruz is both a member of the establishment and unable to work with the establishment.
“Cruz has not accomplished one thing. So he’s an insider,” Trump said. He later added, “He said some terrible things about – how do you get things done when you’re calling Mitch McConnell bad names? Let’s just say ‘bad names.’”
Trump was seemingly referring to when Cruz called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor after McConnell agreed to hold a vote on the Export-Import Bank. Trump has also aimed the same criticism at Cruz, referring to him at the start of the Janesville rally as, “Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”
Trump has spoken with Ryan and McConnell over the phone. On Tuesday, Trump again repeated his line that Ryan called him, though Ryan’s office has clarified that Trump originally reached out to their office, and Ryan was returning the call. The pair have not spoken since early March. Last week, McConnell said that Trump calls him “from time to time.”
Bill Clark contributed to this report.
Contact Bowman at
and follow her on Twitter at
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.