“I’M NOT GOING TO be in Congress 10 years from now,” Ryan tells me one September afternoon. “I can be definitive about that.”

“You won’t be in Congress in 10 years?”

“No. God, no. I’ve already been there 16 years. I don’t want to be a career guy. Even though I’ve been there a long time, where you could already say that … ” He stops himself. “It’s just, I don’t want to spend my adult life in Congress.”

The concession that he’s a career politician and the assertion that his congressional tenure is drawing to a close hardly conform to the narrative drafted by Washington’s power brokers that projects Ryan’s career on a years-long path to either the presidency or, as a consolation prize, the House speakership. Whichever he chooses, the thinking goes, there’s no rush. He’s still young. Time is on his side. (“Paul’s only, what, 44?” says Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican. “He doesn’t have to run for president right now. He doesn’t have to run for [congressional] leadership right now.”)