House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz announced Wednesday that he will not run for reelection to his House seat in 2018.
The Utah Republican said he won’t seek any political office in 2018, stirring speculation that he may run for governor in 2020. Last year, he told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that he would “take a serious, serious look” at a gubernatorial bid in Utah once his term as chairman of the House’s primary investigative committee expired. …
Anti-Trump energy has buoyed Democratic hopes of retaking the House in the midterm elections next year, and a well-funded Democratic challenger has emerged in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, which is now open. Although it’s red territory that Chaffetz has easily won previously, 2018 dynamics could make it more competitive.
The more serious challenge would have come from a Republican primary challenger or an independent conservative such as former presidential candidate and Utah native Evan McMullin, who had not ruled out running against Chaffetz.
Unless you actually believe Chaffetz’s ambition and yen for the limelight were superseded by longing to spend more time with his family, it’s not too hard to figure out why he might want to get out — the sooner the better. Chaffetz’s shtick — bullyboy investigator targeting the right’s bogeymen — worked when Hillary Clinton and/or President Obama were his targets. It cannot work for him when his own party controls everything.
With President Trump in office, as we have written, Chaffetz’s party loyalty, time and again, outweighed legitimate oversight concerns. He couldn’t be bothered to explore violations of the emoluments clause, Trump family members’ gross conflicts of interest, Russian connections, Trump’s concealment of his tax returns and financial holdings — or anything else that might upset the Trumpkin base. Chaffetz’s refusal to do his job put him under the microscope of Democrats, the press and his own constituents.
A boisterous, angry crowd at a town-hall meeting in February left Chaffetz looking defensive and shaken. A Republican in Utah simply isn’t used to that kind of treatment. Like Trump, he lashed out at voters, accusing them of being liberal plants.
Chaffetz no doubt figured that he was in a no-win position. Do his oversight job, and the Trump mob would pillory him. Avoid his responsibility, and his political opponents and the press would bash him. It is hard enough these days for the ordinary House Republican to straddle the divide (between Trump and principles or Trump and constituents), but the ordinary House Republican is not a highly visible committee chairman. A back-bencher can lay low, avoid talk shows and bob and weave on votes that force him to choose between the White House and the base (e.g. health care). Chaffetz did not enjoy that “luxury” and is temperamentally unsuited to inconspicuous public service.
The logical solution for Chaffetz then was to get out, make some money and make his next political move without the hindrance of House duties and without a clear record of either opposing or enabling Trump. Not unlike Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), he could figure out which narrative — Trump nemesis or Trump loyalist — suits him as events play out. If in a year Trump is popular, well, Chaffetz never harassed him with investigations! If Trump is in trouble (more than he is now), well, Chaffetz can claim he never really embraced the president or carried his water.
Look at the hapless Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who got caught up in White House “wiretapping” shenanigans. Now he’s out of the chairman’s seat for the Russia investigation and under an ethical cloud. You can see why Chaffetz might have decided to run the other way — back home and far from Washington.
With Nunes and Chaffetz out of the picture, perhaps the GOP will find conscientious chairmen to conduct proper oversight and help get to the bottom of the Russia scandal. Republicans’ image might even benefit from chairmen who take their constitutional role seriously. In that sense, Chaffetz’s retirement is a win-win for him and the GOP.