Paul Ryan's advice to Republican House colleagues to vote their "conscience" was an unprecedented abandonment of his party's presidential nominee. It also helps him avoid being tied too closely to Donald Trump when, as expected, he runs for president in 2020.
If pollsters and odds makers were to gaze in their crystal balls four years into the future, they'd be very likely to name Ryan the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Ryan has reason not to be mourn a Trump defeat. It removes one of the most divisive candidates in modern history, a man who has been called – not without justification — a racist, xenophobe, bully, bigot, misogynist, liar and unqualified for the job he seeks.
On a more personal level for Ryan, Trump's defeat would give him the opportunity to rebuild the party along the fiscal and social conservative lines he seeks as well as burnishing his presidential creds.
In 2020, he will be 50, 20 years younger than Trump is today. The two men have opposing views on many issues, including abortion, Social Security, the minimum wage, immigration, torture, trade, race and many other issues.
As Speaker of the House, Ryan is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, the third highest elected official and the top Republican in government
He is the highest official of the Legislative Branch (the speakership is a constitutional office, majority leader of the Senate is not) and the top Republican in Washington if Clinton is president. Under a Republican president he would be expected to carry the White House's water, not be the national leader of the opposition.
Ryan has been traveling the country raising money for other Republicans up and down the ballot, campaigning for anyone who asks, demonstrating his party loyalty and leadership, making friends and collecting IOU's at every stop
His old running mate Mitt Romney and many in the Republican establishment practically begged him to run against Trump, but it was too late to mount a viable campaign. That door to the White House may be closed but a new one is wide open.