They often acted as self-appointed Trump translators, explaining the substance of the president's policies in language more befitting of Washington norms than the president's often-jarring presentations.
The travel ban, for example, has become for Republicans a "travel pause."
"Look, the president has a responsibility to the security of this country," Ryan said after a weekend of airport chaos over the order that temporarily blocked arrivals from seven mostly Muslim nations and refugees worldwide. "Now, I think it's regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this.... We are going to make sure that we get this program up and running with the kind of vetting standards that we all want to see."
But hardly a day goes by that Ryan or McConnell aren't asked to defend Trump's latest provocations on Twitter or the next executive order rumored to be coming from the White House.
Republican leadership is gambling that their best bet is to look past Trump's Andrew Jackson-like coarseness in hopes of accomplishing their broader goals.
"There's no question Donald Trump is a different kind of president," McConnell said this week on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "He's different. But I like what he's doing."
One Republican former leadership aide said "there's not a single Republican anywhere" who's not stunned by some of Trump's comments. But they focus instead on the Republican priorities they see taking shape, he said.
"In the end, we're still talking about tax reform, Supreme Court, all the stuff is getting done," the aide said. "Most of the stuff is sort of within the lines of what Republicans want anyway. People by and large think progress has been made."
Trump has already started signing into law bills sent by Congress rolling back Obama's regulatory clampdown on coal pollution and overseas corporate bribes. More are on the way to his desk.
Republicans have put their trust in Vice President Mike Pence, the Cabinet secretaries and a legislative team culled from the halls of Congress -- even though it is unclear how much sway those voices ultimately have with the occupant of the Oval Office.