(CNN) – Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and former Republican vice presidential candidate, distanced himself from one of the most conservative leaders of his party and expressed reluctant support for one of its most embattled figures.
At the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Ryan took a swipe at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for not recognizing "reality" and, when pressed, expressed moderate support for Gov. Chris Christie, R-New Jersey.
The chairman of the House Budget Committee and potential presidential contender in 2016 made the comments in a one-on-one conversation with Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith on Thursday.
‘I wish Chris the best’
Smith began the luncheon by referencing the scandal that has engulfed Christie, but as he started to ask Ryan for a comment, he was quickly cut off by a loud and abrupt “No!”
Laughter ensued from Ryan and the audience, and Smith pressed further, asking whether the media is making more of the scandal or if Ryan agrees with former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who said on CNN's Crossfire Tuesday that Christie should quit his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“Let me say to my friends in the press, I really look forward to this level of scrutiny of the IRS and their targeting scandal of conservatives," Ryan said. "I’m sure that’s the next thing they’re going to do."
“Nothing specific you want to say?” Smith pressed.
“No, only that I wouldn’t agree with Ken, and I hope, I hope - I wish Chris the best - and I hope that he can get this fixed. I really have nothing more to add than that,” Ryan said.
‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’
The conversation turned to the possibility of another debt limit crisis in February. Ryan said he is confident that a deal will be reached.
“We will because we have to," he said, adding: "Our nation will not default on its obligations."
Last month, Ryan struck a budget deal with the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee Patty Murray, D-Washington, avoiding a government shutdown this month and a possible shutdown in September.
Ryan said that while the deal was “very important,” “it didn’t go nearly as far … as we needed it to to balance the budget and pay off the debt to prevent a future debt crisis in this country.”
The bipartisan deal garnered support from Republicans and Democrats alike, but the loudest critics were far-right conservatives, including Cruz, who believes the budget deal compromises conservative values.
To Ryan, this was a case of “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” where some of his Republican colleagues sought what they would consider a perfect deal.
“A step in the right direction is better than going nowhere or going backwards,” Ryan said.
When pressed by Smith what he would tell the Ted Cruz’s of the world, Ryan said “First of all, are we compromising our principles? No, we’re actually advancing our principles. Second of all, you may not be able to get everything you want in a divided government, and that’s just reality, and it’s important to acknowledge and recognize reality.”
Being out of touch with reality and unwilling to compromise were Democrats' major criticism of Cruz, who the left said was responsible for the shutdown.
“The budget we want is the budget we passed back in March through the House. That balances the budget, it makes Medicare solvent, it gets rid of Obamacare, it reforms the tax code, and by the way, it pays off the debt. That’s what we want. Give us Quico Canseco, keep John Cornyn and Ted Cruz coming back and then we can make more good on these things,” Ryan said.
Not ruling anything out
Ryan went on to endorse Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who is being challenged by Rep. Steve Stockman. Stockman is running to the right of Cornyn, accusing him of being too liberal.
“John’s a very good Senator,” Ryan said.
Ryan also spoke highly of House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, who has at times butted heads with the GOP’s tea party base in recent years.
“Look at what he has had to deal with. Look at the challenges he has had,” Ryan said. “He has kept our caucus together and I believe, just look at 2013 how difficult of a year that was. He has done a fantastic job of keeping our caucus together. That goes without saying."
When asked whether he would like to be Speaker of the House, he firmly said that he’s not interested because it would take time away from his family.
“I could have decided to go into the elected leadership route years ago. I'm more of a policy person. I prefer spending my days on policy and weekends at home with my family,” said Ryan.
As for a possible 2016 presidential run, he said he’s “keeping my options open.”
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” he continued. “I haven’t ruled it out.”
But if he decides to run, he may come face-to-face with a fellow Wisconsinite, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who also hasn’t ruled out a potential White House bid.
“We’re good friends,” he said. “I’m sure we’d work something out.”