The Problem Isn’t a ‘Witch Hunt,’ Matt Gaetz. It’s You.

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Danielle Tcholakian
·7 min read
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Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman with a talent for television and not much else, is trying to dig himself out of the deep ditch he’s in, full of stories about underage girls and sex trafficking and a federal investigation. Unfortunately for him, every time he speaks up in his own defense, he digs himself in deeper, while removing any remaining suspicion that he’s remotely intelligent.

In a Washington Examiner column Monday, Gaetz describes himself as “a congressman who loathes the swamp”—which is maybe not ideal for a Florida congressman—that he says is “out to drown me with false charges.”

But instead of proving that Matt Gaetz is being unfairly maligned and targeted, Matt Gaetz—who's emphatically denied reports that he's slept with underage women and paid them for sex—offered a glimpse into why Matt Gaetz so richly deserves to be the mess he is in.

“Sex is especially potent in politics” is how the first sentence of his defense ends, and while that may feel true for America’s entitled, horny legislators, there is actually zero government work that involves sex. Maybe he was thinking of sex work, a separate industry he allegedly patronized and that his political party is hypocritically determined to keep criminalized.

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Gaetz also did the thing that my least favorite types of Democrats do when one of their own gets in trouble, which is to just name a bunch of other people who are not remotely involved in a given situation. His choices, in the order he gives them: Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Donald Trump, Brett Kavanagh, John McCain, Chris Cuomo, Meghan McCain, Bill Kristol, Joe Biden, Katie Hill and, of course, Hunter Biden. Weird dinner party guest list for sure.

Like he did when he appeared on his pal Tucker Carlson’s show, Gaetz seems to be trying to drag his supposed allies down with him. Thank you, Congressman, for the reminder of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct, for dredging up unproven rumors about a deceased senator while also trashing his daughter, and for reminding us of the former president who you adore and who loved to whine about his own supposed “witch hunt” and who’s yet to say a word in your defense.

The reference to Katie Hill was especially bizarre, as his former colleague—whose career was ruined by what amounted to revenge porn—just wrote about how traumatizing it was, given her own experience with having private photos publicly displayed, to learn about the photos of naked women that Gaetz apparently kept on his phone to show colleagues while at work.

But Gaetz says a lot of things that make no sense, in a way that feels frantic, like he’s hoping he can just say enough words, whatever words, and get away before the law or his colleagues in Congress or voters can catch up with him. He claims that his current situation is coming “shortly after [he] decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway: the establishment; the FBI; the Biden Justice Department; the Cheney political dynasty; even the Justice Department under Trump.” What?

To date, his signature “accomplishment” in office has been TV hits, on Fox and sometimes on the floor on Congress, like the stunt where he wore a gas mask to make fun of people who were rightly worried about a virus that would go on to kill more than half a million Americans, or the one where he and his idiot colleagues stormed a secure reading room to try and disrupt impeachment proceedings and, of course, get on TV. Another thing, by the way, that white men can apparently do, but which gets black women manhandled by police.

If Gaetz’s survival strategy is simply to make the maelstrom around him so messy and chaotic that no one can really keep up with what’s going on, he’s doing a decent job of it. Unfortunately, the facts are against him. Gaetz whines in his piece about “the corrupt Justice Department” gunning for him, but it was Bill Barr, Trump’s attorney general, who reportedly started the investigation of Gaetz and also reportedly went to tremendous lengths to avoid ever being seen with Gaetz. Not great when the chosen top law enforcement officer of the guy you can’t stop slobbering over on television thinks you’re so dirty he doesn’t even want to be near you. And most of the “drip, drip, drip” he’s crying about isn’t actually coming from the Justice Department but from current and former colleagues.

In addition to the Washington Examiner piece , Gaetz deployed a former staffer to defend him on Monday, but the ensuing press conference only served to confirm that the FBI is in fact investigating the congressman’s involvement in sex trafficking as his former staffer made clear that he has has zero evidence—and apparently little inclination—to prove Gaetz’s innocence. The only real comment that aide, who hasn’t spoken to Gaetz in months, made about his former boss was the same one we’ve heard about literally every single prominent political sexpest: “He's spent the last four years drawing a tremendous amount of spotlight on himself and his activities, and I don't think that he would likewise be conducting anything illegal."

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According to former colleagues, Gaetz created a “game” within the Florida House where members got “points” for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists and married legislators. The fact that colleagues only counted if they’re married stands out as evidence that an imbalanced power dynamic was very much a feature, not a bug, of this “game.” The point was specifically and directly to have sex with people less powerful, whose livelihoods in some way depended on staying within a legislator’s good graces. It’s diabolical in a way that’s haunting mostly because it’s so unsurprising.

The Republican party’s general silence is also unsurprising—though noticeable, as it speaks to an apparent distaste for Gaetz, when you think about how many other disgusting criminals they’ve chosen to defend. The party’s stance for the last four-plus years has been to assure people that they know there are tigers in the building shitting and pissing everywhere and tearing people’s faces off but frankly we need to accept that the tigers are very popular so we’re just going to have to live with it. The once-great “Moral Majority” is now a party that welcomes and protects avowed sexual predators and pedophiles.

This is why I find it absurd when certain Democrats respond to misconduct by Democrats with whataboutist references to sexpest Republicans. Oh, the Republicans aren’t doing anything about yet another criminal in their midst? Of fucking course they aren’t. They’re not a party of principles. Why would you want to be like them? Shouldn’t you be bending over backwards to be as unlike them as possible? It’s all the more reason to root out these types in your own party.

Of course, the culture of entitlement that enabled and continues to enable Gaetz is not limited to the Republican Party, or even to politics, though it is undeniably rampant there, as we’ve seen from the reporting about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in the past few months alone has been caught covered up nursing home deaths, abusing employees and harassing random women he encountered, and misusing the resources of his office for personal gain. It’s commonplace in the country at large, as part of a culture that forever sees adult white men as boys doing their little boy best, and workplaces as appropriate venues for abuse of all kinds.

What really needs to be dismantled is the fundamental belief that certain jobs and industries are so “tough” that abuse is inevitable and acceptable. There’s no amount of good at a job a person can be that makes it OK for that person to abuse anyone else.

And Gaetz, in his flailing attempts to defend himself, didn’t even try to use that defense, since even he can’t obscure the fact that he’s a politician with no real accomplishments to speak of.

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