House Speaker Paul Ryan Wednesday implored conservatives to pick fights with President Barack Obama and Democrats and not with each other this election year.
Speaking at Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit, Ryan, R-Wis., called for a unified Republican Party and an end to the in-fighting over tactics and conservative purity that contributed to the exit of former House Speaker John Boehner from Congress.
"To quote William Braveheart, ‘we have to unite the clans,’" Ryan said.
He predicted that Obama and Democrats will try to exploit divisions among Republicans and use hot-button issues such as gun control to avoid talking about the White House’s political failures.
"And so what I want to say to you today is this: Don’t take the bait. Don’t fight over tactics," Ryan said. "And don’t impugn people’s motives. It’s fine if you disagree. And there’s a lot that’s rotten in Washington."
He added: "We can’t let how you vote on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative. Because it’s setting our sights too low. Frankly, that’s letting the president define us. That’s what he wants us to do. That’s defining ourselves as an opposition party, instead of a proposition party."
Heritage Action, the House Freedom Caucus, and other conservative groups have been critical of the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing them of being too willing to negotiate with Obama and congressional Democrats.
Ryan, who replaced Boehner in October, has enjoyed a bit of a honeymoon period on Capitol Hill, though some outside groups and conservative talk radio show hosts have already accused him of being no different from Boehner.
Ryan has expressed concern about the angry tone of the Republican presidential campaign. Without naming any of the Republican presidential contenders, he said the Republican Party needs "to be inspirational."
"We need to be inclusive. We need to show how our principles and policies are universal and how they apply to everybody," he said. "We know that the economy is weak. We know that the world is on fire. We know the future is uncertain. There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there. And is it justified? It sure is."
But the party needs to "talk to people in ways that unite us and that are unique to America’s founding," he said.
"That’s what I think people are hungry for," Ryan said. "And that really is the essence of the Republican Party – or, more importantly, the essence of the conservative movement."