Paul Ryan's primary challenger warns: I'm here to stay in the age of Trump

The loudest boos at last week’s Deploraball were shouted for two people: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The boos for Ryan hit a crescendo right before one man took the stage to address the crowd. It was Ryan’s primary challenger, Paul Nehlen.

“I had a 0% chance of winning, and I ran anyhow,” Nehlen, who picked up roughly 16% of the vote in August’s primary despite a boon in national media coverage in the days leading up to the vote, said at the onset of his address. “And I ran because Trans-Pacific Partnership would have eliminated all your jobs.”

“And they would have given your jobs to foreigners, and that’s wrong,” he continued. “That’s what Paul Ryan worked on behalf of. So everybody here in this room who worked hard for [President] Donald Trump, you keep working.”

Although he was soundly defeated by Ryan in August, the reliably pro-Trump Nehlen has attempted to maintain relevance. He announced a bid for the speakership, which proved unsuccessful as Ryan was reelected to the post. But, he’s amassed a sizeable following on social media as has adopted much of the platform of the so-called alt-right. Nehlen has attacked Ryan and Arizona Sen. John McCain using similar language as Breitbart, he’s posted articles from the far-right blog Gateway Pundit and notorious alt-right blogger Chuck Johnson’s site WeSearchr, which was recently blocked on Twitter, and he’s retweeted fringe alt-right trolls such as Baked Alaska.

Reliably pro-Trump, Nehlen received a shout out from the president during the campaign, when Trump tweeted praise of the Wisconsin businessman last August, just days before his primary against Ryan. It was during a time when Trump was claiming he was not ready to endorse the House Speaker in his primary race, although he soon came around and supported the Wisconsin Republican.

Now plotting his next move, Nehlen said the Trump administration had not “really discussed any specific roles” for him in the administration.

“But if he called me, you know, that’s the president calling,” he told Business Insider at the Deploraball. “So, they have got my number, and they could always contact me.”

Continuing to take aim at Ryan, just as Trump was set to be inaugurated as president, Nehlen said he and his following would “hold Paul Ryan accountable to hold up existing immigration law and build up that wall.”

“Just because Trump won doesn’t mean things are going to change where they need to change,” Nehlen said. “They’re going to grind on his immigration proposals and his programs. They will try to grind it down so we have amnesty.”

Asked how he ended up at Deploraball, the Washington, DC, pre-inauguration celebration for some in the alt-right, a movement that consists of white nationalists, reactionaries, men’s rights activists, and staunch protectionists, among others, Nehlen said the crowd was filled with “comrades.”

“I’ve made friends with a lot of people around the country who were also pulling for Donald Trump, so, being on that side of the fight, we’re comrades,” he said. “We’re brothers in arms. Brothers and sisters in arms. I wanted to come here because these are my people. They are for Donald Trump.”

But the Deploraball also came at a time where an apparent fracture was happening in the reliably pro-Trump movement between the white nationalists, who first coined the term, and the larger segment of the group that did not share some of the same sentiments. That latter group was beginning to toss around a new title, the “new right.”

Nehlen, however, did not want to enter the fray on this division.

“I hesitate to really put a label on [this movement] because it’s really everything that the left isn’t,” he said. “It’s ‘America First.’ And there’s different flavours of the alt-right and the ‘new right.’ I think people are focusing on America First policies: Citizens first, law and order first. … I don’t get into this whole is it alt-right or ‘new right’ because that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.”

And Nehlen did not rule out a return bid at running against the House speaker.

“It’d be a little premature to make that kind of announcement, but I would never say never,” he said. “It’s a fair question. Never say never.”

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