Nothing has made as much sense in the last half decade of politics than Monday’s plot twist out of California. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, once the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is resigning his seat in Congress at the end of the month. And he already has a new gig lined up: running the day-to-day operations of former President Donald Trump’s new social media company.
There’s a certain magic in how preordained Nunes' move feels; there’s a sense of destiny at work.
There’s a certain magic in how preordained this move from Nunes feels; there’s a sense of destiny at work. In other days and ages, with other political figures, this might have caused someone — anyone — to blink an eye. A congressman, one of the most powerful elected officials in the country in one of the most powerful countries on earth, has given his just-over-three-week’s notice in favor of going to work for a shady social media startup.
“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 from the Trump Media and Technology Group. “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.”
It should be baffling — and yet here, it just makes sense. It’s the natural endpoint of Nunes’ evolution over the years. When he entered Congress in 2003, Nunes was a typical California conservative, in good with the establishment. A decade later he famously referred to the Freedom Caucus’s members as “lemmings in suicide vests” for their plans to shut down the government over Obamacare.
“We are a democratic republic, and yet populist rhetoric, speaking in platitudes, can lead to bad things happening when it’s just pure, unfettered kind of mob-style movements that are out there,” Nunes told the New Yorker in 2015. “And that’s what we’re kind of facing now.”
If history tells us anything, Nunes will not relish his time as the officially appointed patsy.
Well, just two years later, Nunes was right there with the lemmings. From his position as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he carried enough water for the Trump White House in the early days of the Russia investigation to put a camel to shame. He boosted Trump’s nonsensical “spygate” claims and echoed the president’s “witch hunt” accusation against special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
He wasn’t always good in his job as Trump’s foremost defender against Democratic investigations. The “Nunes memo” of 2018, which he claimed would show FBI bias against Trump, was a nothing-burger that in fact confirmed that the counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign was on the level. And during the saga that would lead to Trump’s first impeachment, Nunes used his perch on the Intelligence Committee to rattle off debunked conspiracies about Ukrainians being the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
But one thing he always has been is litigious, which provides the shot of irony that takes this affair from the ridiculous to the sublime. Nunes loves filing lawsuits, and the target of his most high-profile defamation claims in recent years have been parody accounts on social media. The man who has time and again tried — and failed! — to prevent the “free flow of ideas and expression without censorship” in his courtroom battles against a fictional cow will now run TruthSocial, a social media company claiming to champion just that.
In effect, after these years of training, Nunes is taking the plunge from lying on behalf of a grifter to entering the world of grift himself. It’s quite the escape route for someone whose district looks a lot less friendly in the next round of redistricting, especially after nearly losing his seat in a string of close races.
And all too fittingly, in doing so he may have violated a law that requires members of Congress to publicly declare any job negotiations that take place while in office. And, naturally, the move was announced the same day that one of the companies involved in the Trump’s new company announced it’s under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
I do not expect much from this move that will benefit Nunes. App stores are littered with the husks of social media companies promising total freedom of speech and finding themselves buried under an avalanche of racist invective and betrayed users fleeing after moderators are finally installed. So, too, has Trump made a mess of any company that he has founded that required anything other than use of his own name.
No, if history tells us anything, Nunes will not relish his time as the officially appointed patsy. When TruthSocial inevitably collapses, it will be Nunes that Trump blames for any failures. It’s Nunes who will have the most liability for the day-to-day uses and abuses of the app in the event of any future indictment. And it’s Nunes who I very much doubt will reap the sort of payday that he likely imagined when accepting the gig.
Truly, Devin Nunes has reached his final form — and it’s all downhill from here.