Ryan takes swipe at Trump following KKK controversy

House Speaker Paul Ryan flexed the muscle of the Republican Party on Tuesday, telling Donald Trump in no uncertain terms that if he intends to carry the GOP flag into November he “must reject” hate groups.

The speaker delivered rare remarks on the raucous Republican primary battle during a press briefing, as Super Tuesday voting got under way. While not mentioning Trump by name, Ryan’s comments were clearly directed at the GOP primary front-runner’s initial wavering when asked Sunday about his support from former KKK leader David Duke.

Ryan said Tuesday he tries to stay out of the “day-to-day ups and downs of the primary” but, “when I see something that runs counter to who we are as a party and as a country, I will speak up.”

He said wants to be clear:

“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. … I hope this is the last time I need to speak out on this race."

While Trump wavered on condemning the support from Duke on Sunday morning, he had initially disavowed it and has done so since, as he tries to put the controversy to rest.

Trump said Monday he had not understood the interviewer who first raised the question about Duke, and he did later repudiate him.

"How many times do I have to continue to disavow people?" he said.

The controversy has proved a distraction for Trump as he remains the favorite to win the overwhelming majority of contests on Super Tuesday, when 11 states award 595 delegates in the Republican primary contest.

Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, also denied Monday that he had formally endorsed Trump, but said he would vote for the real estate mogul and had encouraged others to do the same.

"When you say you endorse someone you're basically endorsing the person and basically people get the impression you're endorsing everything about them," Duke told Fox News Radio's "The Alan Colmes Show" Monday night. "I think that voting sometimes is not a question of endorsing someone, but sometimes you vote strategically."

Despite the controversy, Ryan reiterated Monday he plans to support whomever emerges as the GOP nominee but bemoaned the current discourse in the GOP and said it was time to get back to focusing on how Republicans would solve the nation's problems.

Ryan was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.