You’ve heard of the expression “Death by a thousand cuts?” Congressman Aaron Schock is a living example. The congressman has had a spate of unflattering news articles in the last 6 weeks or so. No one story is career-ending, but cumulatively they are creating millstone around his neck that he might not be able to carry much longer. Yesterday, two highly influential conservative journalists called for Schock to step down from office.
Here’s the history. A reporter for the Washington Post noticed that the congressman’s office was decorated like a room from Downton Abbey. That generated negative publicity, but no big deal. But then that story created interest in why the congressman had taken tens of thousands of dollars of services from free from a decorator. That brought another round of unwanted scrutiny. This revealed that the Congressman posted all of his whereabouts on his Instagram account. This revealed lots of fun travel to Katy Perry concerts, Bears games and other cool places, all billed to taxpayers or campaign coffers. And this was a context for the media to remind everyone that Schock had posed bare-chested for a men’s magazine not that long ago.
At some point the cumulative drip becomes a waterfall.
Yesterday the result was this:
“I will not belabor the point,” wrote Red State’s Erick Erickson, “Rep. Aaron Schock has proven himself incapable of handling his own money, the money of his donors, and taxpayer money. He has lived excessively off the backs of taxpayers who must be reimbursed and off of donors to whom he is now a servant.”
That can’t be dismissed as a mere partisan attack or an attack of the so-called liberal news media against a conservative Republican (which Schock is). Erickson is a firm supporter of conservative causes and candidates.
Shock has made several mistakes along the way. #1. He never should have posed bare-chested for a men’s magazine. Congressmen get to do a lot of fun things, but that isn’t one of them. 2. He’s been too cute. His on-camera statements after the office decorator controversy was to quote Taylor Swift saying “haters gonna hate.” 3. He kept broadcasting his celebrity lifestyle on Instagram in a trackable manner.
Shock is a very young man who represents a very Republican district, so he is in not in danger of losing a general election. But he could be picked off in a primary if another republican runs against him on the theme that Schock has become a national embarrassment.
Schock needs to quickly rehabilitate himself if he wants to stay in congress. Here are my recommendations:
- Introduce some substantive legislation and spend your time building political and media support for the substance of that bill.
- Only post policy substance on social media.
- Spend all of your time in Washington working in committee meetings or meeting with constituents back in the home district.
- Develop a paunch, like most other congressmen.
- Keep your shirt on at all times!
TJ Walker is a communications expert who conducts media and crisis communications workshops. You can reach him at 212.764.4955