JANESVILLE — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday that he would step aside as chairman of the Republican National Convention if presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump wants him to do so.

“He is becoming the nominee,” Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal in an interview Monday. “He earned the right to decide these things, and I will honor his decision.”

Ryan, R-Janesville, responded for the first time Monday to Trump’s comments Sunday on Meet the Press that he wouldn’t rule out ousting Ryan as convention chairman.

In Monday’s interview, Ryan said he doesn’t know if Trump understands the constitutional role of the president. He gave an unusually candid assessment of the fissures in the Republican Party that have coincided with Trump’s ascent.

Ryan, facing a pro-Trump Republican primary challenge in his own congressional district, described the forces backing his rival as “outside agitators.”

Ryan made waves last week by telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that he’s not yet ready to support Trump as the GOP nominee. A House Speaker rebuking his own party’s presumptive White House nominee in that fashion is unprecedented in the history of modern presidential campaigns.

Ryan told the State Journal that his comments were based on an honest personal evaluation of the schism in the Republican Party.

“We can’t just pretend that our party is unified,” Ryan said. “We have some work to do to unify ourselves so that we can be at full strength in the fall.”

Trump’s resounding win in the Indiana primary pushed his remaining GOP rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, out of the race, enabling him to become the presumptive nominee.

Until the results of the Indiana primary became apparent, Ryan said he expected the Republican National Convention to be contested, with no candidate as the presumptive nominee heading into the convention.

Ryan told Tapper last week that “there are a lot of questions that conservatives, I think, are going to want answers to.” He prefaced that by referring to principles of limited government, the proper role of the executive and an adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

Asked if Trump has done or said that makes Ryan concerned that he doesn’t understand those issues, Ryan responded: “I just don’t know the answer to your question.

“That is among the things that I think are necessary for us to unify as a party,” Ryan added.

Businessman Paul Nehlen is campaigning to oust Ryan in the Republican primary on Aug. 9. Ryan represents Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, which runs along Wisconsin’s southern border from Janesville to Racine and Kenosha.

Nehlen has endorsed Trump, and former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, also a Trump supporter, is supporting Nehlen. She predicted in a recent interview that Ryan will be “Cantor-ed,” a reference to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was ousted in a Republican primary in 2014.

Ryan said Monday “there’s no point in responding” to Palin. But Ryan added that he’s confident heading into the primary.

“People are going to say things to get attention. Outside agitators will try and have influence,” Ryan said. “People here know me extremely well.”

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(c)2016 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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