WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin vowed on Sunday to help unseat Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, because of the his refusal to endorse presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Palin, the former Alaska governor and Trump supporter, endorsed conservative businessman Paul Nehlen, who is challenging Ryan, the House speaker, for his congressional seat in the Wisconsin Republican nominating contest on Aug. 9.
“I will do whatever I can for Paul Nehlen,” Palin said in an interview with CNN. “This man is a hardworking guy, so in touch with the people.”
Though Ryan is heavily favored to win the primary race against Nehlen, Palin predicted an upset in a race she said would shock Washington’s political class.
Palin’s comments underscore the deep divisions within the party over Trump, who effectively locked up his party’s nomination for president last week when his two remaining rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, dropped out of the race.
Palin said she believed Ryan would get “Cantored,” comparing him to former Eric Cantor, the former No. 2 Republican in the House who was defeated in a 2014 primary by conservative Dave Brat, now a Virginia congressman.
Ryan said last week he was not ready to support Trump yet, saying that the New York real estate mogul needed to do more to unify the Republican party.
“Paul Ryan and his ilk, their problem is that they become so disconnected from the people they are elected to represent, as evidenced by Paul Ryan’s refusal to support the GOP front runner, that we just said, ‘He’s our man,’” Palin said.
A poll in March by Marquette University Law School showed Ryan with more than an 80 percent approval rating among Wisconsin Republicans.
Seen as an intellectual leader of the party’s conservative values, many inside the party believe he may mount his own White House run in the next presidential cycle.
Nehlen, like Trump, wants to secure the southern border with Mexico and withdraw from global trade deals. He told Reuters in April that Cantor’s defeat in 2014 “reinforced in my mind” that he could defeat Ryan.
Asked if she would be willing to be vetted as a potential vice presidential candidate, Palin said she recognizes many voters might not want her on the ticket and that she “wouldn’t want to be a burden” to Trump’s candidacy.
Palin, who is popular with the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, was tapped in 2008 to be the running mate for former Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Reporting by Dustin Volz and David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan and Alan Crosby
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