WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Republicans Wednesday to stop fighting angrily among themselves and not to be distracted by guns or other "hot-button" issues that President Barack Obama raises this election year.
"We can't fall into the progressives' trap of acting like angry reactionaries," Ryan, R-Wis., said at a Heritage Action for America policy meeting. "The left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default."
Ryan's remarks followed a year that saw bitter strife between congressional conservatives and more pragmatic Republicans that led to the abrupt departure of the prior speaker, Ohio Rep. John Boehner. Ryan, the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, ascended to the top House job at the behest of party elders and has repeatedly stressed the need for GOP harmony while promising to listen to all Republicans and to give more power to rank-and-file lawmakers.
Ryan said the GOP needs to unite behind a conservative, pro-growth agenda it can display to voters in the November elections. Even so, Republicans may struggle this election year to push a budget through Congress because of divisions over spending levels.
Ryan said Obama, "struggling to remain relevant in an election year when he's not on the ballot," will try helping elect another Democrat by trying to distract voters.
"So he's going to try to get us talking about guns or some other hot-button issue and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State extremist group. "He's going to try to knock us off our game."
Instead of falling into that trap, Ryan said, "Don't take the bait. Don't fight over tactics. And don't impugn people's motives."