Awe & Schock
In 2008, in a crowded conference room of a hotel in Decatur, IL, I sat with a throng of tired, dejected Republicans as an alternate delegate at the state Republican Convention. It was the last day of the convention, and besides staring down a seemingly inevitable national loss, incisive infighting colored many of the convention meetings–further depressing a feisty, but usually cheerful, lot. Politician after politician delivered droning speeches that garnered a smattering of applause not loud enough to drown out the buzz of side conversations. Then, a young representative took the mic, and everything changed. Aaron Schock spoke without note cards. He engaged us. His message of hope and reform made us forget, for just a moment, that we were in the midst of a “tough” election. We saw reason for optimism beyond November–and we needed it.
He started his first IRA at 14 and was elected to serve on a school board just 5 years later. From the beginning, Mr. Schock represented something of a prodigy. His natural good looks were an extra tool in his charm offensive. He won his election and quickly rose to national prominence. Refusing to shy from speaking at minority events, Schock, one of the youngest serving members in the House, provided a roadmap for Republicans wanting to make inroads in communities less receptive to the conservative message (I even mentioned this talent here). In 2010, his district was redrawn such that it now heavily favors Republicans. Born in the Reagan era, Schock represented a new wave for the GOP–a new generation of fresh faced leaders.
On Tuesday, the shiny new carriage of the Republican message turned into a pumpkin–Mr. Schock resigned amidst a growing controversy regarding his unethical spending of campaign and federal monies. Accusations, for weeks, dogged him, beginning with a Washington Post piece about his ornate office and ending with a particularly embarrassing account of plain fraud in which the Congressman allegedly received reimbursements for mileage that he never drove.
Illinois’ new Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, will call a special election to fill the vacancy. According to the Chicago Tribune, three potential candidates have already expressed interest–Illinois Senator Bill Brady (whose failed gubernatorial campaign I proudly served as a volunteer); Darin LaHood, the son of Schock’s predecessor, Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood; and Illinois State Senator Jason Barickman, who plans to announce Wednesday whether or not he will pursue the position. Whoever ascends to Schock’s seat will almost certainly be a Republican and will just as certainly be a principled conservative (I can speak to Mr. Brady when I say that if he pursues the seat and wins, he will surely please the conservative base).
But, what we lose in Schock’s departure goes beyond having a congressman who votes the right way and serves as a dynamo fundraiser. We also lose someone who knows how to connect people with our message. We lose someone who worked to expand our party at a time when our party needs more members and voters. As much as I admire (and agree with) Mr. Brady, I am unsure that he feels the impetus to filter his conservative messaging through a lens focused on growing the Party’s appeal. This should represent a top priority for the Republican Party.
Yes, we happily say goodbye to a corrupt, prodigal opportunist, who was moments away from a scandal that could have damaged the Party even more (Schock considered a run for Illinois governor, which may have led to yet another Illinois governor trading in an Armani suit for one of the bright orange variety). Yes, Benjamin Cole, Schock’s senior advisor for policy and communications, was an embarrassment. But this whole event is a shame.
This shame can grow if Schock’s replacement fails to encourage more people to consider joining the conservative movement.