Wisconsin businessman Paul Nehlen announced Tuesday that he is the tea party-allied candidate who is challenging House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in the Republican primary, saying he’s “had it” with the speaker betraying conservatives.
Sources first confirmed to The Washington Times earlier this week that a wealthy businessman was mounting a primary challenge to Mr. Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, but Mr. Nehlen did not reveal his identity until now.
“Paul Ryan’s embrace of big government spending, his continued support of illegal immigration and imported workers, and his championing of the job-killing trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership betrays me, this district, and this nation,” he said.
“He’s failed to put America’s security and American jobs first. I’ve had it. We’ve all had it,” said Mr. Nehlen, a successful executive, entrepreneur and inventor who previously donated to Mr. Ryan’s campaigns.
“Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have become front-runners in this presidential election cycle because they have dared to communicate an anti-establishment message. They won’t be alone,” he said. “I will bring the fight straight to one of the most powerful establishment players in Washington, taking him on right here in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Paul Ryan is a career politician. It’s time that career came to an end.”
The campaign said that Mr. Nehlen would file his candidacy papers Friday.
Mr. Nehlen serves as senior vice president of operations for a leading water filtration and disinfection technologies company, and helped relocated manufacturing jobs from Canada to the U.S., including moving several product lines to Wisconsin.
As an inventor, he holds several patents for filtration and manufacturing technologies, including processes that are involved in 3D printing.
He lives in Delavan, Wisconsin, with his wife, Gabriela.
The emergence of a viable Republican challenger in the district is the culmination of a months-long recruitment effort by tea party activists who say they were double-crossed by Mr. Ryan when he passed a $2 trillion spending package late last year.
A political adviser close to Mr. Nehlen has acknowledged that it won’t be easy to defeat Mr. Ryan, who was the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, currently ranks as one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington and has more than $5 million in his campaign war chest.
The businessman is prepared to put a substantial amount of his personal fortune into the campaign, according to the adviser.
While it’s often an uphill run, there is precedent for a tea party challenger toppling a member of the House Republican leadership. Eric Cantor, while serving as majority leader, lost his seat in a Richmond, Virginia, suburb in a 2014 primary upset to tea-party-backed Dave Brat.
However, Mr. Ryan’s predecessor as speaker, John A. Boehner, easily defeated a tea-party-backed primary challenger the same year in Ohio. At the time, Mr. Boehner faced widespread opposition from conservatives and a revolt in the House Republican conference, which ultimately prompted him to resign in October.
Mr. Ryan did not seek the speakership, but was drafted by conservative and mainstream House Republicans who saw him as a unifying figure who could mend the divide in the conference.
Mr. Ryan’s campaign team did not immediately respond to questions about Mr. Nehlen entering the race.
Mr. Ryan came under fire from conservatives shortly after he took the job of speaker in October and almost immediately pushed through the $2 trillion spending bill, which renewed popular tax breaks and increased the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars.
The spending package avoided a government shutdown by striking a deal that surrendering on conservatives’ top priorities, including giving up the fights to defund Planned Parenthood and to block President Obama’s plan to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S.
It also enraged advocates for a crackdown on illegal immigration by funding so-called sanctuary cities that provide safe harbor for illegal immigrants and failing to rein in Mr. Obama’s executive action to grant deportation amnesty.
Mr. Ryan defended the bill, saying House Republicans fought hard to get as much as they could and advanced some of their priorities.