5 takeaways from Paul Ryan's CNN town hall

Story highlights

  • Paul Ryan defended his support for GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump
  • But he declined to contradict a questioner who called Trump "openly racist"

(CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan says presidential elections are a "binary choice" -- and Donald Trump is a better one than Hillary Clinton.

In a town hall moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper Tuesday night, the Wisconsin Republican tried to turn the focus away from Trump onto the overall GOP agenda. But the tension underlying all his answers was on how they matched — or didn't — with Trump, and what his endorsement meant.
    Here are five takeaways from the town hall:

    Awkward dance with Trump

    Ryan noted he'd spoken with Trump for weeks before offering the presumptive Republican nominee his endorsement, and was clear that he still disagrees with him on some topics.
    "In the balance of things, the good clearly outweighs the things I don't agree with," Ryan said. "We don't have people who run for office who 100% reflect all of our views. It doesn't work like that."
    He was pressed on how he can morally justify his support for Trump, and wasn't shy about taking issue with Trump's proposed Muslim travel ban.
    Ryan said he opposes proposals that violate religious freedom -- whether it's "Catholic nurses and doctors in California (through abortion laws), or whether a Republican is doing it to a Muslim."

    'Openly racist'

    Ryan's tough spot was made clear when he was pressed by Zachary Marcone, a Republican who said he couldn't support Trump because he is "openly racist."
    "Can you tell me, how can you morally justify your support for this kind of candidate?" Marcone asked.
    In his answer, Ryan never disputed Marcone's characterization of Trump as "openly racist."
    Instead, Ryan responded that by failing to support Trump, "That basically means you're going to help elect Hillary Clinton -- and I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to support any of the things that you stand for if you're a Republican."

    Ryan on VP: 'I want a conservative'

    Calling Trump "new to this," Ryan made clear that he wants Trump to pick a vice presidential nominee who will mollify conservatives.
    Ryan said he wants to see Trump pick "someone that is familiar with and has a proven record of being a conservative reformer, who understands conservative founding principles and has a record of applying those principles."
    At the same time Ryan held his town hall, Trump was campaigning in Indiana with Gov. Mike Pence in what many saw as a test-drive for a possible ticket. Trump and Pence had met one-on-one before a fundraiser earlier in the evening -- and Ryan had lavished praise on Pence prior to CNN's town hall.
    Why is it so important for Trump to pick a reliable conservative? "I'd say he's new to this and he's been on different sides of different issues," Ryan said.

    Ryan's nod to Black Lives Matter

    The speaker didn't use the comeback that "all lives matter" -- and even denounced it -- when a questioner asked for his take on the Black Lives Matter movement.
    "I just don't think we should be talking about dividing at all. I think we should be talking about unifying," Ryan said. Noting that the retort that "all lives matter" tends to "enrage" people, he said: "Why don't we stop kind of enraging everybody?"
    It was a marked departure from Trump, who on Monday had told The Associated Press that Black Lives Matter is "a very divisive term" and said that "a lot of people feel that it is inherently racist."
    Ryan said lawmakers should seek to be "inclusive and aspirational" -- and to "be peaceful and listen to each other and have calm conversations about what are truly people's concerns and then see where solutions are."

    Ginsburg: The new pro-Trump talking point

    Part of Ryan's case for Trump includes the argument that a Republican president -- any Republican president -- would choose more conservative Supreme Court nominees than Hillary Clinton.
    His go-to example to make that case: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The left-leaning, 83-year-old justice criticized Donald Trump again this week, calling him a "faker" in an interview with CNN's Joan Biskupic.
    "I think it is out of place in an appointed branch of government. That shows bias to me," Ryan said. "I don't think that is something she should have done."
    In a reference to the opening left by Justice Antonin Scalia's death and the possibility of other openings in the near future, Ryan said that "the next person on the Supreme Court will shape this court probably for a generation."