Paul Ryan, like Herman Melville’s Bartleby, would prefer not to.
He would prefer not to stick around much longer in an increasingly toxic Washington. He would prefer not to have to drag himself through another cycle of fundraisers. He would prefer not to have to grapple with a splintered caucus and conservatives who periodically threaten to depose him. He would prefer not to risk losing the speakership, should Republicans lose the House in November.
Most of all, however, one gets the sense that he would prefer not to have to deal with President Trump.
Ryan, the speaker of the House, announced on Wednesday that he will retire from Congress at the end of this term. The most charitable explanation is this: Ryan never wanted the speaker’s job anyway but was thrust into it when John Boehner retired. Who can blame him for not wanting to be the man standing between a volatile caucus, and a president whom he doesn’t like, who doesn’t respect him, and who doesn’t care a whit for the kind of conservatism that has motivated Ryan throughout his long career in government?
Yet if a sense of duty is what motivated Ryan to take the speaker’s gavel, he is turning his back on duty by deciding to leave. Faced with an out-of-control president of his own party, the speaker has decided he’d rather quit than deal with it. Ryan’s retirement caps more than a year in which the House, along with the Senate, has abdicated its responsibility to hold the executive branch in check. Retirement just formally ratifies what has been clear since January 2017.