Donald Trump changed a whole lot of things about politics over his four years in office — and this arc for ambitious politicians is one of the big ones.
No longer is getting elected to Congress — and serving in the House or Senate — the gold standard of how to matter in Republican politics. Instead, political power is now judged by one’s closeness to Trump.
The latest evidence of this sea change in how power is accrued in Republican circles is Devin Nunes, the California congressman who announced on Monday night that he is resigning from the House by year’s end for a job as the CEO of the Trump Media & Technology Group, the former president’s still-evolving social media company.
“The time has come to reopen the Internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship,” Nunes said in a statement. “The United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream. I’m humbled and honored President Trump has asked me to lead the mission and the world class team that will deliver on this promise.”
What’s remarkable about Nunes’ move is, well, two things:
1. Republicans are strongly favored to retake the House majority in 2022
2. If that happened, Nunes would serve as the chairman of the powerful and influential Ways and Means Committee.
Now, California’s congressional lines are being redrawn by an independent commission and the preliminary maps suggested that Nunes’ Central Valley district is likely to become more Democratic than the seat he has held since the early 2000s.
So, Nunes getting reelected — particularly with his profile as one of Trump’s closest allies — was no sure thing. But, given the congressman’s name ID and massive fundraising ability, he would likely have started as the frontrunner in a 2022 race.
Which means that Nunes chose being the CEO of the latest Trump business — which, not for nothing, is already drawing some not-great press — over helming one of the two or three most influential committees in Congress.
And that tells you everything about how the center of power and influence within the Republican Party has dramatically shifted in the Trump years.
Nunes is far from the only example, of course. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, another Trump ally, was rumored to be courting a job with one of several conservative media outlets as an off-ramp from Congress. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy retired from Congress in 2018 and now has his own weekend show on Fox News Channel.
While the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert all currently hold House seats, each has made abundantly clear that their priority is building a national conservative brand — via appearances on Fox News and other conservative channels — rather than focusing on the traditional jobs of committee work and, you know, legislating.
Nunes’ move then is simply the latest piece of evidence that Trump is the sun in the Republican orbit; he is the thing around which everything and everyone — congressional leaders, conservative channels, interest groups — rotate.
And the only thing that matters in that universe is proximity to its center. Getting — and staying — in Trump’s good graces, no matter how you do it, is the pathway to fame and, yes, fortune within the party these days.
Nunes knows that. Which is why he walked away from a job that, even a decade ago, every single ambitious Republican in the country would have killed for. That’s just how much Donald Trump has changed everything.