U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan makes a statement to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington ruling himself out as a potential 2016 presidential candidate April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas(reuters_tickers)
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday he would reject any attempt to draft him as a Republican presidential candidate, trying to quash speculation that he could surface as a unity choice should Donald Trump or Ted Cruz falter.
"Let me be clear: I do not want nor will I accept the nomination of our party," Ryan said in remarks at the Republican National Committee's Washington headquarters.
Ryan, the top elected Republican in Washington and the party's 2012 vice presidential candidate, has been the subject of persistent speculation that he could emerge as the nominee if an impasse over the party's pick develops at the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Ryan has repeatedly said he is not interested in entering the presidential race, but advocates for such a scenario have pointed out that he was cool to becoming House speaker until he was finally persuaded to take over from John Boehner last year.
Some recent steps taken by Ryan generated a new round of political chatter, such as his release of a campaign-style video and a trip to Israel.
Ryan, who will preside over the Cleveland convention, said his goal is to ensure there is integrity in the process.
He said the 2016 nominee should be someone who has actually run this year and said he would urge delegates to pass a rule limiting the nomination only to actual candidates.
"I should not be considered. Period. End of story," he said.
Still, Ryan offered his views on the state of the race, complaining that "insults get more ink than ideas" and that Republicans still owe it to the voters to show what they would do if given a mandate.
"I believe that we can once again be an optimistic party that is defined by our belief in the limitless possibility of our people," he said.
Republicans who see a disaster looming in the Nov. 8 presidential election if Trump or U.S. Senator Cruz of Texas is the nominee have harbored hopes of drafting a popular party figure like Ryan or 2012 candidate Mitt Romney.
For that to happen, no candidate would have won the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination on the first ballot at the convention, and delegates would have to approve a consensus alternative on a second or subsequent ballot.
The latest national Reuters/Ipsos poll said Trump still leads Cruz among Republican voters but that his advantage has been narrowed. Trump had 41 percent support to 35 percent for Cruz of 598 Republicans surveyed from April 8-12.
In the Democratic race, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont each had 48 percent support, according to responses from 719 Democrats polled. The two have been tied frequently since February.
Ryan's announcement could give some hope to long-shot Republican candidate John Kasich, who portrayed himself as an antidote to what he called the divisive politics of Trump and Cruz.
KASICH CRITICIZES "PATH OF DARKNESS"
In a speech in New York City, Kasich criticized his rivals as wanting to take the United States down a "path of darkness" and offered himself as a more optimistic alternative, with a week to go before New York state's Republican and Democratic primaries on April 19.
Kasich - running a distant third behind Trump and Cruz and with no chance of capturing the Republican nomination unless he can emerge from a contested convention - did not mention Trump and Cruz by name but left no doubt as to who he was talking about.
"Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention. That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again," Kasich said, referring to Trump's signature line.
Trump is favored to win the April 19 primary in his home state. He holds a huge lead in opinion polls there, with Kasich running a distant second and Cruz in third place.
A victory for Trump would help tamp down concerns among supporters that he is suddenly vulnerable after Cruz beat him in Wisconsin last week and won all Republican delegates in Colorado on Saturday.
At a rally in Rome, New York, Trump blamed the Republican National Committee for setting up a system in which Colorado Republicans picked their delegates without letting people vote.
"The rules are no good when you don’t have democracy," he said, reiterating his allegation that the delegate selection process was "rigged."
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told Fox News on Monday that the process for choosing delegates had been set by states for more than a year and was no secret.
In some good news for Trump on Tuesday, he was formally declared the winner of Missouri's Republican primary, which was held on March 15.
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)