As the dust settles on Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s effort to boot House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his leadership post, his political future is coming into sharper focus.
The pugilistic and unapologetically right-wing member of Congress is seen as an early, top contender for the Florida governor’s mansion in 2026. And while he’s said that he has no plans for making a run for the job, Republicans say his successful ouster of the most powerful Republican in the House may hint at loftier ambitions.
“You’d have to ask Rep. Gaetz about his ultimate intentions, but certainly this is something that the grassroots of the party, in particular, in places like Florida are paying attention to,” said Matt Terrill, a Republican strategist and former Florida GOP consultant. “Whether it’s in a congressional district or statewide, I think those Republican base voters agree with a lot of what Rep. Gaetz is saying right now.”
Gaetz’s bid to oust McCarthy from the speakership has made him few friends on Capitol Hill, with most members of his own party criticizing the move as a reckless ploy to grab the spotlight and stir chaos within the House GOP Conference.
“He doesn’t have a plan,” U.S. Rep. Max Miller, a McCarthy ally, told Spectrum News on Tuesday. “He wants pure chaos because he’s running for governor of Florida and he doesn’t care about anybody but himself.”
Gaetz’s campaign did not respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment on his political aspirations.
Chaos aside, Gaetz’s success on Tuesday in ousting the speaker of the House for the first time ever in a no-confidence vote is sure to earn him the kind of outsize national reputation that many would-be Republican gubernatorial candidates could only dream of.
The anti-McCarthy effort could help elevate him in a Republican gubernatorial primary where the GOP’s deeply conservative — and largely anti-establishment — base voters are likely to hold outsize sway over the nominating process.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s seeking the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination, won’t be able to seek another term in office because of term limits. In the event that DeSantis wins the White House, his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, would take his place until the end of his term as governor.
And while that’s still years away, there’s already a long list of Republicans believed to be eyeing DeSantis’ job, ranging from statewide officials like Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis to other members of Congress, like U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds.
Gaetz, for his part, has brushed off questions about whether he plans to run for governor, saying that he’s focused on helping elect former President Donald Trump to the White House in 2024. He has explained his attempt to oust McCarthy from his post as nothing more than an effort to hold the top House Republican accountable for promises he made to right-wing members of Congress earlier this year in order to win the speakership in the first place.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“For some people, policy failures are recast as personal because their own failures are personally embarrassing to them,” Gaetz told reporters outside the Capitol on Tuesday. “This isn’t personal.”
Yet Gaetz has entertained the possibility in the past. Asked about a potential gubernatorial run by Donald Trump Jr. during an August livestream on the online video platform Rumble, Gaetz said that he “would definitely enjoy that job so much I would never leave it, if I ever got that opportunity.”
In that same livestream, Trump Jr. and his fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, offered Gaetz their support should he mount a bid for Florida governor.
“I’m not in the race yet,” Gaetz replied. “But I’ve signed up my first volunteer, and my second.”
Gaetz has other powerful political allies. His father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, announced on Monday that he would seek to return to the state Senate, prompting speculation that he could lay the groundwork for his son to launch a gubernatorial bid. (The elder Gaetz has denied that Matt Gaetz has any plans to run for governor.)
And in a recent interview with conservative site The National Pulse, former President Trump praised Gaetz when asked what he thought about the representative running for Florida governor, though he didn’t offer an explicit endorsement.
“He’s a great guy. I mean, he’s great; a wonderful person,” Trump said. “He’s strong.”