Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urged a ballroom of Iowa GOP activists Friday evening to halt the incessant infighting that has plagued his party and allowed Democrats to seize on their disunity and score electoral gains.
A Roman Catholic, the 2012 vice presidential nominee used the season of Lent to help inspire GOPers to give up intraparty bickering.
“Let’s try to give up the infighting, let’s give up the tunnel vision, let’s give up the acrimony. The left loves to say that our party is in this big civil war, that we’re tearing each other apart. I don’t see it that way,” Ryan told the 2014 Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
He borrowed a phrase actor Mel Gibson made famous in “Braveheart,” saying, “We need to unite the clans.”
Ryan touched on similar themes during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.
But in the Hawkeye State, Republicans would be wise to put the advice to use after they reconcile a five-way U.S. Senate primary in June. Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is a slight favorite to retain the open seat, but he damaged himself by making a comment that could be perceived as slighting farmers and those who didn’t go to law school.
Braley was caught on tape warning that a Republican-controlled Senate could produce a “farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school” as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee” – a reference to the state’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley.
Ryan couldn’t resist a reference to the slip-up.
“Imagine what Chuck Grassley would’ve done with his life if only he had a law degree,” he said to laughs in what may have been his best line of the evening.
Ryan also sprinkled obligatory humor into his remarks recalling a story when a flight attendant mistook him for disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner,D-N.Y.
“You’re somebody famous. Are you Anthony Weiner?” the flight attendant in Milwaukee asked him.
“No, I’m Scott Walker,” he replied with a smile, referring to his home state Republican governor. “This is a true story.”
But his bottom line was serious and provided a glimpse of what his message for a potential 2016 White House campaign would sound like: The return to the party that is proud to hoist a big tent.
“We have to be not just the good opposition party. We have to be a great alternative party,” he said. “More focusing on persuasion, less purging. This is about winning converts.”
This was Ryan’s first visit to Iowa of the year, but before the speech he was approached by a man to come back to speak at a dinner in Delaware County. Ryan nodded politely and told the Republican he’d likely be back in the fall to campaign on behalf of congressional candidates there.
But even in the closing line of his speech, he snuck in one final call for solidarity.
“Thanks for the unification that’s going to be coming after this primaries,” he said.