House Speaker Paul Ryan and White House chief of staff John Kelly made the obligatory small talk as they shared an elevator in a hotel in Austin in early April. They asked about each other’s families, groused about allergy season and complained that hotels are always too air-conditioned. But hanging in the air between them, Ryan told friends, was a mutual sympathy for their shared burden: President Donald J. Trump.
There wasn’t much to say, really, or much to be done. Both have found working with the President to be an infinitely frustrating task. Both had resigned themselves to trying to limit the damage.
Washington had long simmered with talk that Kelly had reached a breaking point and was on his way out, but as it happened, it was Ryan who exited first. On April 11, Ryan strode to the podium at the Capitol and declared that he would not seek an 11th term representing his hometown in a southern corner of Wisconsin. True to form, Ryan put the most optimistic spin he could on the situation. “You realize that you hold the office for just a small part of our history, so you better make the most of it. It’s fleeting, and that inspires you to do big things,” he said.