Paul Ryan easily wins GOP primary

Story highlights

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan faced Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin's primary
  • Nehlen has criticized Ryan's stance on trade

(CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan easily won the Republican primary in Wisconsin's 1st congressional district, defeating challenger Paul Nehlen, CNN has projected.

"There is a lot of anger that Washington just isn't working," Ryan said in his victory speech. "In times as uncertain as these, it is easy to resort to division. It's simple to prey on people's fears. That stuff sells, but it doesn't stick. It doesn't last. Most of all, it doesn't work."
    He added: "We can't afford another four years like the Obama years, and let it be very, very clear, that is exactly what Hillary Clinton and her party are offering."
    Just a week before the primary, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump publicly thanked Nehlen for his support and told The Washington Post he wasn't ready to endorse Ryan -- a move that came as payback for Ryan's slow-walked Trump endorsement in the spring.
    Trump reversed course and announced his support for Ryan at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Friday night. But it only came after he'd given major air time and attention to the little-known Nehlen.
    Nehlen was a longshot: Polls in Wisconsin consistently showed Ryan hovering above 80% support. And Trump lost Ryan's district to Ted Cruz by 19 percentage points in Wisconsin's presidential primary.
    "We defied everyone's expectations for his campaign," Nehlen said in his concession speech. "We took on the leader of the world's globalist movement."

    'Cantored'

    Some pro-Trump conservatives had hoped Ryan would suffer the same fate as former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, who lost a Republican primary two years ago to the little-known Dave Brat.
    "I think Paul Ryan is soon to be 'Cantored,' as in Eric Cantor," 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said on CNN in May.
    Following the resignation of Speaker John Boehner, Ryan only took the top job in the House after insisting he be able to return home each weekend to his family. As he campaigned across his district, he reminded voters he has deep roots in the community and mentioned in passing he recently ascended to his new job as the highest ranking Republican in Congress.
    Indeed, Ryan isn't Cantor.
    Marquette University Law School surveys in June and July have shown he's popular with Republicans -- with 84% of those in his district viewing him favorably.

    Split on trade?

    Still, Ryan has shifted on some positions -- including trade, where his rhetoric now is tinged with some of the populism of Trump and Nehlen. Nehlen, though, cast the speaker as supportive of trade deals seen as harmful to US jobs by Trump.
    At a town hall at a local tools manufacturer in Racine Monday, Ryan made the case for trade deals broadly, saying the US needs to engage on the world stage. But when he was specifically asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership by a worker, he criticized the deal. Ryan said it needs to be renegotiated, and that the votes aren't there to pass it.
    It's a reversal from Ryan's stance a year ago -- when he'd touted the potential benefits of the Pacific Rim deal and said he hoped it would get a vote in Congress.
    Ryan even invoked Trump's name, saying even Trump is for "good deals," but Ryan qualified that statement by adding a more robust defense for open markets.
    "I don't think there's a high likelihood (of the TPP's passage) right now because ... we don't have the votes to pass it because people like me have problems with some significant provisions of it that we believe need to get fixed," he said. "But here's the point: we do need trade agreements. I know a lot of people say just get rid of trade agreements, don't do trade agreements, and that's terrible. That's a problem for us."
    Then, pointing to Trump's position, Ryan said: "The question is, is it a good agreement or not. And that's what, yeah, and that's what Donald Trump says is right, is we want good trade agreements. We don't want bad ones, we want good ones. But you've got to have, in an economy like this, good ones so we can make it here and sell it over there instead of making it there to sell it over there. That's the difference here."
    Nehlen tried to use the speaker's pro-trade views against him ahead of the primary.
    There were about 100 blue-collar workers at this plant, where Ryan fielded a handful of questions from employees, including one on the Green Bay Packers' chances this year. Trump did not come up other than Ryan's mention of him as it relates to trade. Ryan did not take press questions.
    In recent days, Ryan has blitzed Wisconsin's talk radio airwaves, conducting several interviews daily with local hosts -- many of whom were critical of Trump in the state's GOP presidential primary in May.