In the hours after Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood video broke, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah was the first Republican politician to say he could not endorse a presidential candidate who bragged about sexual assault. “I’m out,” Chaffetz told Utah’s Fox 13 News. “I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.”
“My wife, Julia and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter,” Chaffetz explained. “Do you think I can look her in the eye and tell her that I endorsed Donald Trump for president when he acts like this and his apology? That was no apology, that was an apology for getting caught.”
But, technically speaking, does announcing that you’re voting for someone mean you’re endorsing them? Chaffetz doesn’t think so!
There are six other Republican members of Congress who have re-embraced Trump after walking away in the grab-’em-by-the-pussy aftermath. Several are locked in tight reelection races, but that doesn’t explain why Chaffetz decided to sort of re-endorse Trump, since Chaffetz is polling about 45 points ahead of his Democratic challenger.
Chaffetz has made it clear from the start that there’s no way he’s backing Hillary Clinton, and last week he said he would “watch the debate and see how the rest of the things play out” before deciding how to cast his ballot. Trump has not personally made any overtures to Utah in recent days, but on Wednesday, he did send his running mate, Mike Pence, to campaign in Salt Lake City while he was opening his new Washington, D.C., hotel.
Unlike other candidates who are torn between alienating either conservative pro-Trump voters or Never Trump independents, Chaffetz has another option. Obscure fifth-party candidate Evan McMullin has surged in Utah in recent weeks and actually has a chance of beating Trump and Clinton.
For some insight into Chaffetz’s decision, we should look to D.C. rather than Utah. Earlier on Wednesday, Chaffetz tweeted this:
The Washington Post story, which many did not consider flattering, described how Chaffetz is preparing to spend the next four years investigating Clinton, rather than focusing on governing. “It’s a target-rich environment,” Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee told the paper. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
Chaffetz rose quickly since his election in 2008, and he led the House investigation into Clinton’s private email server. He told the Post that he isn’t positioning himself for a more senior leadership position, though he’s already run for Paul Ryan’s job:
After John A. Boehner’s surprise retirement, Chaffetz briefly ran for speaker of the House. Today, he says he’s “supportive” of Ryan and has no plan to chase his job — though he does not rule out supporting someone else. Oversight, he explained, is “where the action is.”
Still, there’s speculation that House Republicans may try to oust Ryan after the election, and Chaffetz would be a likely contender for the speakership. With pro-Trump Republicans focusing much of their ire on Ryan, it’s smart for Chaffetz to send the message that he’s President Hillary Clinton’s greatest nemesis in the House, and at least tolerant of Trump.