Dissecting Schock’s downfall
Congressman Aaron Schock’s resignation is not only a blow to national Republicans, for whom Schock raised millions, but also to Illinois Republicans.
Just eight weeks ago, Schock was widely believed to be next in line to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee. But his rapid fall from grace ruined his career and deprived the NRCC of a chance to project a far more youthful public image.
Needless to say, the Illinois House Republicans are heartbroken by this loss. Schock is a former state House member and he retained quite a bit of personal affection and even admiration by his onetime colleagues and staffers. But it’s the loss of his assistance which will be felt the most. Schock has been very helpful to the point of being almost indispensable to the House Republicans. He’s helped recruit candidates, raised money for them and helped them campaign. And he was quite successful.
Ever since he defeated a sitting Democratic representative in a solidly Democratic district at the age of 23, Schock has been the HGOP’s wonder boy. And they’ve used his help and his model to win other districts, including state Reps. Adam Brown and Michael Unes, who both won Democratic-controlled districts with Schock’s assistance in 2010.
The Illinois Republicans don’t remember Schock as the jet-setting, rule-shortcutting playboy he became in Washington, DC. When he was in Springfield, Schock was rarely seen on the nightlife circuit, often traveling back to Peoria after the day’s session ended to meet with constituents. He was always a young man on a mission, and he seemed to fully understand back then that if he wanted to continue his meteoric rise up the political ladder, he had to make sure he was always in tune and in touch with the folks back home.
So, what the heck happened here?
Well, the Democrats probably didn’t do him any favors by drawing him the most Republican congressional district in the state. Schock did stay in touch with his constituents via regular trips back home, but with his political safety all but assured he apparently no longer felt the need to be “in tune” with his district.
And his 24/7 fundraising meant he was constantly hanging out with wealthy people. Personally interacting with people who literally have money to burn can have an overwhelmingly intoxicating effect, particularly on somebody who has always personally striven to be rich. We saw much the same thing happen to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who both lived well beyond their means in order to somehow keep up with their rich buddies.
Schock’s first job was in the fifth grade, doing database management for a chain of book stores. He was investing in the stock market when he was barely a teenager. When he was talking about running for governor a couple of years ago, he said if he lost he’d just go make lots of money. Schock was always confident in his own political and financial skills. He just knew he would reach the highest rungs of whatever ladder he climbed.
But that aborted bid for governor forced Schock to rethink his future and focus his sole attention on rising through the congressional ranks. He held a leadership post and looked like he had an eventual straight shot to the very top, but was sidetracked last year when his ally, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, unexpectedly lost his primary election. He then set his sights on the NRCC, and the chairmanship was literally within his grasp.
The complacency caused by Schock’s safe GOP district and his realization that Congress was the only venue he’d probably ever have for stardom, his single-mindedness about how raising money was his only ticket to the top combined with his personal quest for wealth and his apparent need to emulate the lifestyles of the folks he was raising money from (plus whatever else happened that we don’t know about) all somehow led him to start cutting corners. And when you start doing that, it’s very difficult to stop. Indeed, it often leads to much worse things. Just ask Rod or Jesse.
And now, Schock is under federal investigation. The final chapter won’t be written on this book for quite a while. Hopefully, after this is all over, after he has paid his price (if any), Schock can put those truly amazing skills of his to work again for the people he once clearly loved. He’s only 33 years old. He’ll have plenty of time to redeem himself.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.