House Speaker Ryan warns of 'conservatism is being disfigured' -- but doesn't mention Trump
Rep. Paul Ryan in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 6, 2014 (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan vowed on Thursday to speak out against Republican presidential campaign rhetoric that could mislead voters about the party and its conservative principles, but stopped short of criticizing front-runner Donald Trump directly.

On a day when his former presidential running mate Mitt Romney denounced Trump, Ryan said he "laughed out loud" this week when Trump warned that the speaker could pay a big price for not getting along with him if he becomes the party nominee.

"Here's what I can control. If I see episodes where conservatism is being disfigured, if I see comments that mislead the people as to who we are as Republicans, I’m going to speak out on those," said Ryan.

The speaker has already admonished Trump for failing to disavow support from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

"I’m going to speak out for who I am and what I believe and what we as House Republicans believe, and what conservatism is as we understand it," he told reporters.

Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, delivered a blistering rebuke of Trump on Thursday, saying the real estate developer and former reality television star was "a phony, a fraud."Ryan, who was Romney's vice presidential running mate in their failed attempt to unseat President Barack Obama, said he did not know the content of the speech in advance.

"Mitt Romney is one of our party leaders. He cares deeply about the future of the Republican Party and the country," he said. "These are the kinds of things that happen in a competitive Republican primary."

Ryan said his role as House speaker and chairman of the Republican presidential nominating committee would be to provide a bold Republican policy platform capable of offering voters substance on important issues including jobs and the economy.

He said he would reach out to each Republican presidential candidate to talk about the agenda.

But Ryan said he does not know Trump.

"We're going to obviously get to know each other if he gets the nomination. And we'll cross those bridges when we get to it," the speaker said.

"I'm a good-natured guy, so I get along with everybody."

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Beech and David Gregorio)