Dear 100 Hour Board,
What do you folks think is actually going on with the whole Rep. Chaffetz stepping down thing? Is he actually going into the private sector? Does he have someone even nastier groomed for his position? Is he looking at a Presidential or Gubernatorial bid in 2020? Think he's leaving due to pressure/unpopularity or for other reasons?
When I first left a placeholder here, I said I thought it was because of how personally unpopular he had become in the past few months. However, having read Dr. Smeed's preliminary answer, I've changed my mind; now I'm pretty sure that he's trying to find a way to not become even more unpopular, and he can't think of how to do that without taking a break for a few years.
I'm not saying that he would definitely lose re-election in 2018 if he kept going the way he has been, but I agree with yayfulness that it wouldn't be easy to win. First of all, 2000 people showing up to a town hall does not equate to only 2000 people not liking him, and it certainly doesn't equate to only 2000 people being persuaded to vote for someone other than him in a Republican primary a year from now or for a Democratic challenger in 18 months.
I have an alternate solution to his dilemma that doesn't involve taking a break from politics to avoid difficult situations, but it would require a time machine. He could have had an ounce of integrity to start with, and he wouldn't have ever gotten into this mess. (I feel like I should mention that I expressed worry about his lack of integrity even before the election, back in Board Question #88200.) If he genuinely doesn't like or support President Trump, why did he endorse him? To save face with his party? Who cares! It's not like his constituents love the president that much, so is he a representative of his district or a partisan hack?
So yeah, he's probably doing this because he thinks it will make him more likable as a senatorial or gubernatorial candidate in a few years, and maybe it'll work. I don't see myself living in Utah by then, so I guess I'll have other politicians to worry about.
In the original behind the scenes of the Board, there was some back and forth about how Chaffetz thinks he has a pretty good chance of losing. He has a pretty good chance of losing? In a district he won by 127,000 votes (out of 250,000 total votes) last election? Not even. I think he is having an attack of the conscience and creating some space in order to gear up for either a senate run to fill Senator Hatch's seat, or more likely a run for governor. He says he's not running for office in 2018, but how many times has Senator Hatch said that as well? For the record, I like Rep. Chaffetz, I voted for him and I support him, but I hope that he keeps his word and doesn't run in 2018. I will be well out of the state in 2020 but if I were still around I would probably vote for him for governor. I think he's trying to be a pragmatist, but lacking the age and experience to do it while staying in office is causing him to hedge and be a little inconsistent.
I don't think he's leaving due to his personal unpopularity. There was indeed a strong showing at the town halls, but 2,000 people, many of whom did not live in his district aren't going to make a difference. I don't have the $1,050 to get a copy of the Utah voter registration log but I googled the people who show up in the KSL, Deseret News, and Tribune articles about the town halls and very few profiled live in his district. Those who showed up who did live in his district are Cottonwood Heights liberals or independents who would have no effect in the primary. Even if they all changed parties and voted against him in the primary, it would still give him a comfortable win.
I think he genuinely does not like or support President Trump, and wants to make that clear and separate himself from the President for the rest of his term, while not poisoning the well for future political ambitions. From the KSL article announcing his intent to not run for reelection "[Jason] Perry [head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics] also said, however, that if Chaffetz is interested in running for governor, 'he needs to get the Washington, D.C., off him. He will not want to run as someone who is part of the D.C. establishment.'" I agree with him. His time spent in D.C. will make him less popular for Utah voters than anything he does or does not do there.
Dear don't start thanking just yet,
If I had to put money on it, I'd say that Chaffetz would probably win reelection in 2018 if he ran, but I guarantee it would be the most miserable election if not the most miserable overall experience of his life. Right now, he's chained to an incredibly unpopular President who he endorsed, then un-endorsed, then re-endorsed in the most divisive election in recent memory. People from all over the country have started donating to his most likely Democratic challenger, and a primary challenge from a centrist Republican wouldn't be surprising at all under the circumstances.
Orrin Hatch and Gary Herbert aren't going to be around forever, and nobody whose name isn't Paul Ryan becomes a big name in US politics in the House of Representatives. Representative Chaffetz wants to be Senator Chaffetz or Governor Chaffetz, and this is probably a step in that direction.
Since writing the original version of my answer, I've also heard rumor that he might have been offered a prominent media gig - further fueled by his talk of possibly stepping down even before the end of his term. Whatever the case may be, it looks like he thinks his future is brightest somewhere outside of the House of Representatives.
For what it's worth, he's already registered the domains Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com. And he already owns JasonForGovernor.com. He definitely has more political ambitions.