It was as though Schock had simply disappeared, an odd sort of vanishing given just how high a profile the Illinois millennial commanded during his very brief time in office. But Schock's rise is likely to be a blueprint for future ambitious pols -- although the way his career has ended, at least for now, won't be something many rising stars aspire to.
Consider this: Schock had 18,300 more followers on Instagram -- an account that he has now made private -- than he had sponsored bills in Congress. (He sponsored zero bills.) He had 34,873 more "likes" on his Facebook page than bills sponsored. He had 27,700 more Twitter followers than bills sponsored.
Read anything about Schock's time in Congress and it amounts to this: Schock wanted to be considered for higher office. Whether that was as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the speakership (ha!) or the governorship of Illinois, Schock's main contribution in Congress -- aside from his social media presence -- seemed to be eyeing jobs he didn't have and raising money so that one day he might have them.
It's long been a cliche -- one that is largely true -- that there are "showhorses" and "workhorses" in Congress. And it's clear which category Schock fit into. But what is new -- and what I believe Schock represents the leading edge of -- is the rise of a new kind of showhorse in politics, someone not interested in passing legislation or even seriously engaging in policy debate but rather someone who views the office as a platform to gain wider celebrity in the popular culture.
Sarah Palin was the first incarnation of this hybrid politician-celebrity -- we once dubbed her a celebritician -- but Schock is its next logical incarnation. While Palin used social media to her advantage, it was still in its infancy when she rose to national fame/infamy. Schock's entire political celebrity was built on his seemingly awesome life as documented on his Instagram feed. He surfed! He hiked on a glacier! He hung out with Ariana Grande!
None of those things had anything to do with Congress or his day job, of course, but Schock -- and the online following he built -- didn't care. He was a handsome, fit and, frankly, cool guy. That he was a congressman was sort of beside the point.
Success in Congress was once defined by what committees you served on and how much influence you carried among your peers. Increasingly, another, alternate definition of success, politically speaking, is emerging: How far you can penetrate into the broader culture using, among other things, social media to push your brand.
Washington may have seen the last of Aaron Schock. (Although Mark Sanford is currently in Congress, proving anything is possible.) But we haven't see the last of the Aaron Schock-type politician. In fact, there will only be more "Aaron Schocks" as the millennials age and begin to see politics -- and the power and platform it conveys -- as a reasonable and even attractive career option.