It’s been a week for Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
First came the news that he was considering resigning from Congress for a job in the conservative media world. That was followed almost immediately by reporting that the Justice Department is investigating a possible sexual relationship between Gaetz and a 17-year-old girl. (Gaetz denied the allegation and insisted that the 17-year-old girl “doesn’t exist” and that he was the the victim of an “organized criminal extortion.”) Then on Thursday night, CNN reported that, unrelated to the DOJ probe, “Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with.” And there was this late Thursday from The New York Times: “A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.” (Gaetz denied these allegations too, including that he paid any woman for sex).
Like I said: Not good.
To date, Republican elected leaders have largely avoided making public pronouncements about what Gaetz should do next. (This relative silence is made easier by the fact the House is out of session this week.)
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said this of the Justice Department investigation: “Those are serious implications. If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him [from House committees] if that’s the case. But right now Matt Gaetz has said that it’s not true, and we don’t have any information. So let’s get all the information.” McCarthy hasn’t said anything further as more stories about Gaetz have emerged.
Here’s the two-fold problem for Gaetz:
1) Congress won’t be in recess forever. The House is slated to return the week of April 12 — and the new allegations make it impossible for the likes of McCarthy to continue to stall indefinitely on whether Gaetz should be removed from committees (or worse).
2) Gaetz has very few friends — even within the GOP — in Washington, meaning that there just aren’t going to be a lot of people rallying to help defend him.
It’s that second point that is really critical as we consider whether or not Gaetz can hang on to his political career amid this maelstrom of accusations. And it’s the biggest argument against Gaetz surviving this series of scandals.
See, Gaetz is a lone wolf in Washington. He’s never made any bones about his desire for publicity — by any means necessary — or his lack of patience with the slow process of gathering seniority and power in Congress. He is the ultimate showhorse. Which makes lots and lots of workhorses in Congress — including lots and lots of Republicans — resent and dislike him.
This, from a story in The Hill earlier this week, captures that sentiment nicely:
“Few of Gaetz’s GOP colleagues are coming to the defense of the third-term Floridian following a New York Times report that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct with — and interstate trafficking of — a minor roughly two years ago. And a number of Republicans, while warning against jumping to premature conclusions about Gaetz’s conduct, also suggested they wouldn’t miss him if he were gone.”
While not being terribly popular among the entrenched establishment in Washington has long been a Gaetz calling card, it’s not a good place to be when you find yourself, as he is now, desperately fighting for your political career. Everyone Gaetz stepped on — or tweeted an attack about — on the way up the ladder to being one of Donald Trump’s favorite members of Congress (and one of the most high-profile) is sitting back right now and watching him twist in the wind.
One example: Imagine how much a supportive statement from Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 ranking Republican in House leadership, would be right now. That is never going to happen. Why? Because Gaetz went to Wyoming in late January specifically to stir up opposition to Cheney following her vote to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the January 6 US Capitol riot. “We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party, and I intend to win it,” Gaetz said while in the state. “You can help me break a corrupt system. You can send a representative who actually represents you, and you can send Liz Cheney home — back home to Washington, DC.”
Even if Cheney knew or believed Gaetz to be innocent of the various allegations being leveled against him, there’s a roughly zero percent chance she would issue a statement designed to help him survive. Maybe a less than zero percent chance.
That’s not to say Gaetz is entirely without allies. Ohio Rep Jim Jordan, another favorite of the Trump wing of the Party, told CNN’s Ryan Nobles on Wednesday that he believed Gaetz. And Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) took to Twitter to say: “I stand with @mattgaetz.”
But in the main, Gaetz is a man on an island here. And that is a very lonely — and bad — place to be.