I’ve been covering politics for closing in on 25 years, and in that time I’m not sure if I’ve come across a politician more strategic and more ambitious than former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
He’s one of those guys who always seems to be planning a few moves ahead (except, obviously, that time after his last election that he neglected to plan for the fact he didn’t actually want to be in Congress anymore).
So when I was sent a link to an opinion piece Chaffetz wrote for his gig on Fox News, I recognized wheels being set in motion.
In the column, Chaffetz calls out those “Republican Trump haters” who broke with the party and helped put Joe Biden in the White House, trading, as he put it, “bad Tweets for bad policy.”
Today, your Twitter feed is void of President [Donald] Trump’s tweets. But the price was high,” Chaffetz wrote.
He goes on to tick off the ways he believes Biden has hurt the country — hampering domestic oil production, opening borders to “cartels, traffickers and COVID-positive migrants,” wants taxpayer funded abortions, is driving up inflation and the debt, and throws in the latest disaster in Afghanistan for good measure.
“You [Trump-haters] traded fairness for a George Orwell version of equality,” he wrote. “Protesters on the left can set buildings ablaze, vandalize them and shoplift with impunity. Protesters on the right will be branded, surveilled and prosecuted as domestic terrorists.”
Set aside that it’s a huge pile of trash. It’s significant because it’s precisely the trash pro-Trump Republicans can’t devour enough of.
And Chaffetz can’t possibly aim this missile at “Trump haters” without it landing at least in the vicinity of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney who, alongside only Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, make up the trifecta of Never-Trump royalty in Congress.
That’s what makes this interesting. Chaffetz has been telling people in Utah political circles for months that he would consider running against Romney when he’s up for re-election in 2024.
That assumes Romney even runs for another term. He was never popular among die-hard Utah Republicans. The first time he ran, delegates forced him to a primary with former Rep. Mike Kennedy, who Romney trounced in the election.
But that was before he voted twice to impeach Trump. When he tried to address the state GOP convention in May, Romney was heckled, booed and shouted down with the kind of anger and rage Republicans usually reserve for the devil or Hillary Clinton.
There is blood in the water, and you can be 100% sure that Chaffetz can smell it.
I don’t believe it’s happenstance that at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in February, Chaffetz opened his speech to rousing applause after delivering the line: “My name is Jason Chaffetz, I’m from Utah and I am not Mitt Romney.”
“If you’re looking for Pierre Delecto,” he said, using Romney’s Twitter pseudonym, “you need to go down the hall, go left, and then just keep going left until — well, just keep going left. That’s where you’ll find him.”
To me and others I’ve talked to, this latest opinion piece reads like the potential bones of a future stump speech, full of red meat and bombast — exactly the type of diatribe we saw him deploy to defeat then-Rep. Chris Cannon and launch his political career.
To his credit, Romney, to the extent he is vulnerable, is in trouble for doing the right thing in taking a stand against an unscrupulous Trump. And since then, he has been more focused on policy — like getting a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed — than his political future.
And maybe I’m making too much of Chaffetz’s article. It never actually mentions Romney by name and is also the type of stuff that his Fox followers want to read.
And when I contacted Chaffetz, he told me: “The genesis of that piece was not to target any one particular person. Unfortunately, there were lots of people that fit this category.”
But, he also said that he is “always keeping as many doors open as possible.”
In 2024, when angry Trump backers having spent four years on the sidelines will be fired up to take back the White House and punish those who helped beat their guy, that door will be open. Wide open.
And Chaffetz will have long before charted his path to step through it, if he chooses.