Donald Trump declines to endorse Paul Ryan: 'I'm just not quite there yet'

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Donald Trump tweets thanks to Ryan challenger

In an unprecedented move that highlighted the extreme disunity in the Republican Party, Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was "not quite" ready to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking elected GOP official in the country.

"I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country," Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post. "We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I'm just not quite there yet. I'm not quite there yet."

The phrasing used by Trump was similar to what Ryan said when he initially declined to endorse the Manhattan billionaire shortly after Trump secured the GOP nomination in May. At the time, Ryan told CNN he was "just not ready to [endorse] at this point."

"I'm not there right now," he told CNN host Jake Tapper.

Ryan would later endorse Trump in June.

SEE ALSO: Obama says Trump is 'unfit' to serve as US president

The move came just one day after offering praise to Paul Ryan's primary opponent, Paul Nehlen.

Trump thanked Nehlen Monday night for defending him in a controversy regarding Trump's criticism aimed at a Gold Star family.

The Wisconsin primary is next Tuesday.

Trump told the Post that Nehlen, who has been reliably pro-Trump, was running "a very good campaign" and added that Ryan sought his endorsement. He said he was giving Ryan "very serious consideration."

Ryan gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as a sign of party unity between the two leaders.

"[Ryan's] opponent is a big fan of what I'm saying — big fan," Trump told the Post. "His opponent, who's running a very good campaign, obviously, I've heard — his opponent sent me a very scholarly and well thought out letter yesterday and all I did was say thank you very much for your very nice letter. You saw my statement."

Trump also told the Post he would not be supporting Sen. John McCain of Arizona, while he slammed Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Both released blistering rebukes of his comments on Ghazala and Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parents who slammed the New York businessman at the Democratic National Convention. Yet, neither retracted prior statements that they'd be voting for Trump in the fall.

"I've never been there with John McCain because I've always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets," Trump said when asked about the Arizona senator's rebuke of his comments about the Khans.

See more of slain vet Humayun Khan and his family:

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Slain vet Humayun Khan and his family
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Slain vet Humayun Khan and his family
Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun S. M. Khan was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving in the U.S. Army in the 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, offers to loan his copy of the Constitution to Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump, as he speaks while a relative looks on during the last night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Captain Humayun Khan, died while serving his country in 2004. 

(Photo credit Khizr M. Khan)

Khizr Khan walks off stage after speaking about his son US Army Captain Humayun Khan who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq 12 years ago, on the final night of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Khizr Khan, who's son Humayun (L) was killed serving in the U.S. Army, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Khizr Khan, father of Humayun S. M. Khan who was killed while serving in Iraq with the US Army, speaks during the fourth and final day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: Khizr Khan, father of deceased Muslim U.S. Soldier Humayun S. M. Khan, holds up a booklet of the US Constitution as he delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun S. M. Khan was one of 14 US Muslims who died serving the United States in the ten years after 9/11 speaks during the final day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump added: "He has not done a good job for the vets and I've always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets. So I've always had a difficult time with John for that reason, because our vets are not being treated properly. They're not being treated fairly."

McCain is locked in a primary battle against two other opponents. The primary will take place on August 30.

On Tuesday, Trump also lashed out at Ayotte.

"New Hampshire is one of my favorite places," Trump said. "You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn't want to talk about Trump, but I'm beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us, okay? You tell me."

He added: "I don't know Kelly Ayotte. I know she's given me no support — zero support — and yet I'm leading her in the polls. I'm doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don't need weak people. We have enough of them. We need fighters in this country. But Kelly Ayotte has given me zero support, and I'm doing great in New Hampshire."

Business Insider reached out to representatives for Ryan, McCain, Ayotte, and Nehlen, but they did not immediately respond.

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