This is an archived article that was published on in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Did Donald Trump's unpopularity claim its first congressional victim in Jason Chaffetz?

The congressman's announcement Wednesday that he wouldn't seek re-election in 2018, nor will he run against Sen. Orrin Hatch, shook Utah political circles, but on several levels, the decision makes sense.

Within his inner circle, Chaffetz had confided there was some burnout with the congressional grind, and some frustration with the early direction of the Trump administration.

Democrats jumped on the announcement as proof that progressive pressure drove Chaffetz from office.

Not likely.

While Republicans have struggled in a pair of special elections since Trump took office — clinging to a heavily Republican seat in Kansas and ending up in a runoff in a GOP-held Georgia seat — I'm confident that's not what motivated Chaffetz to step aside.

It's true 2018 will likely be a rough election for House Republicans, as it often is for the party in power, especially when saddled with an unpopular president.

Yes, Democrat Kathryn Allen has been racking up campaign donations and, yes, Chaffetz has already drawn a Republican challenger in attorney Damian Kidd.

But, if he ran, Chaffetz would have won re-election in another landslide and whomever the Republican Party puts on the ballot — whether it's Provo Mayor John Curtis or state Sen. Deidre Henderson of Spanish Fork or someone else — should win by double digits.

Instead, as he often does, Chaffetz seems to be playing the political game a few moves ahead.

It's no secret that Chaffetz wants to be governor after the 2020 election, but that won't be a cakewalk. This may be coincidence, but try pulling up and it sends you to Chaffetz's congressional site.

If he does run, and I think he will, he'll likely be vying with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a popular hometown kid, and possibly Josh Romney for the Republican nomination. Both would be formidable and Chaffetz likely recognized sticking around in Washington could only damage his chances to be Utah's next governor.

Chaffetz could use his spot as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to go after the unpopular Trump administration, and wreck his relationships with the White House and his congressional colleagues, not to mention Trump loyalists in Utah.

Or he could play lap dog, defend the administration and destroy his credibility and open himself up to the kind of "Do your job" lambasting he received at his recent town hall, then try to run for governor as the Washington insider who climbed into bed with an unpopular president.

Given those options, Chaffetz made the smart move. He shed the Trump baggage and will return to Utah to shore up support for what will probably be a hard-fought Republican primary in 2020.

He gets to at least try to reboot the Chaffetz brand, getting away from the partisan firebrand and bomb-thrower he has been on the House Oversight committee and recast himself as more of a statesman and problem-solver — in short, more gubernatorial.

What remains to be seen is whether Chaffetz sticks around to finish his term. Twenty-one months is a long time to be a lame duck and if his goal is to return to the private sector, as he says, and begin laying the groundwork for his bid for governor, it would make sense to get started on that sooner rather than later.

Don't be surprised if we see Chaffetz hang up his cleats sometime in the next few months because the 2020 governor's race starts today.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke