Paul Ryan Criticizes Trump in All but Name: 'Yes-Men and Flatterers Flocking to Mar-a-Lago'

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Alex Wong/Getty Paul Ryan (left) and Donald Trump

Paul Ryan took indirect aim at former President Donald Trump in a speech on Thursday night about what he sees as the future of the GOP.

Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House, gave a keynote address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California — and he had a warning for his fellow conservatives.

"Once again, we ... find ourselves at a crossroads," Ryan, 51, said. "And here's one reality we have to face: If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we're not going anywhere."

He went on, invoking Trump in all but name.

"Voters looking for Republican leaders want to see independence and mettle," he said. "They will not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago."

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Paul Ryan

Alex Wong/Getty From left: Donald Trump and Paul Ryan

Ryan, a longtime Wisconsin representative who was the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, retired in 2019 after four years as House speaker.

Publicly, he said he wanted to spend more time with his three teenage children.

But in journalist Tim Alberta's 2019 book American Carnage, it was reported that Ryan saw his exit as an "escape hatch" from a Republican electorate rapidly shifting toward Trump's view of the world.

"I wanted to scold him all the time," Ryan told Alberta in the book.

In his Thursday address, Ryan also sharply denounced Trump's conduct around the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot by a mob of his supporters.

"It was horrifying to see a presidency come to such a dishonorable and disgraceful end," Ryan said.

Trump, 74, responded to Ryan's speech with a characteristic statement on Friday morning,.

He called Ryan "a lame duck" and claimed Ryan was "the single biggest factor" for the Republican Party's 2012 loss in the general election, when President Barack Obama easily won a second term.

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Ryan, who now sits on the board at Fox Corp. and was also a visiting professor at University of Notre Dame, didn't lay out his future political intentions in his speech Thursday — although he took aim at President Joe Biden as much as he did Trump.

"In 2020, the country wanted a nice guy who would move to the center and depolarize our politics," Ryan said. "Instead, we got a nice guy pursuing an agenda more leftist than any president in my lifetime."