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Why Aaron Schock Resigned

Like the “Downton Abbey” era that he adored, Aaron Schock is now a goner. The Illinois representative resigned today after a flood of stories about financial improprieties (mostly published by Politico and the Chicago Sun-Times) came out over the past couple of weeks. While Schock certainly did enough to earn an early exit, he may have faced a different fate were it not for a few important factors.

Schock was a victim of his own success, so steeped in the money culture of Congress that he became engulfed by it. His most important contribution to his fellow Republicans was the treasury he amassed for them, not the legislation he sponsored. His leadership PAC contributed $468,588 to Republican candidates in the 2014 cycle, according to Open Secrets. That was enough to make it the 14th highest-spending PAC among all members of Congress, Republican or Democrat. It was not much less than the amount donated by the PAC of former Speaker and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a powerhouse fundraiser, to her party’s members. In the past few months, he had raised half a million dollars for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The monetary base of the Republican party isn’t known for tolerating public scandals, however. It’s part of the reason that Gov. Chris Christie has lost a lot of financial backers to Jeb Bush in the 2016 race. Once Schock became damaged goods, it meant he would have needed strong backing from the base of his party to survive.

The problem for Schock is that he was far more moderate than you would have expected for a Republican representative from his district. In the 113th Congress, he ranked in the 15th percentile for conservatism among Republican House members, according to DW-Nominate Common Space scores. Based on the fact that Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain did, on average, 11 percentage points better in Illinois’ 18th district, which Schock represented, than they did nationwide, he should have been closer to the 50th percentile of conservatism among House Republicans. It’s no wonder, then, that people like Red State’s Erick Erickson had no problem calling for Schock’s resignation.

Importantly, the fact that Schock was from such a conservative district would have actually made him quite vulnerable in his bid for re-election. Shigeo Hirano of Columbia University and James M. Snyder Jr. of Harvard University have found that primary voters are far less forgiving of scandal-ridden House members when they are from safe districts (as measured by the previous presidential vote). Schock’s relatively moderate record only added to his primary vulnerability, though it would have been difficult for him to lose a general election.

Schock’s resignation is the end for a backbencher who had little policy impact, but made reporters smile at his choice in attire and fellow members do the same at the money he brought to the party. Even in a Congress where raising cash is a sign of statesmanship, however, there are apparently still some limits to its power.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.