If the louche and loony Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are pretty much the sum total of the character witnesses you can muster when your character is in doubt, then you took a lot of wrong turns in your life. This is the situation in which U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is mired in a metastasizing sex scandal, finds himself. His difficulties have been greeted with bipartisan schadenfreude from Washington to Tallahassee, which is a testament to all of the friends he has not made in a political career distinguished chiefly by sophomoric snark, sharp elbows, egoism and excess.
The sex-related list of things Gaetz denies doing is long and lurid. He says he did not pay young women to have sex with him or engage in sex trafficking with a 17-year-old girl alleged to have been shared between him and a close friend currently under indictment for, among other things, sex trafficking.
Gaetz also denies publicly boasting about his sexual prowess and prolific conquests by showing Congressional colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives photographs and videos of nude women with whom he said he had sex, his denial being in response to statements to the contrary by unnamed members of the House as reported with independent confirmations by multiple mainstream media organizations.
And Gaetz denies he was a member of a ring of roues in the Florida legislature who played a game in which points were awarded for the classes of women — staff, lobbyists, elected members — with whom they had sex, bonus points being awarded if the women were married. His denial notwithstanding, this bit of locker room depravity was attested to by Representative Chris Latvala, one of Gaetz’s Republican colleagues, and it is generally taken to be gospel by those familiar with the goings on in Tallahassee at the time.
With so much smoke indicating a high likelihood of fire, the defenses mounted by Gaetz have been as furious as they have been incoherent. When the news broke that he was under investigation by the FBI, Gaetz tried to confuse matters by announcing that there had been an attempt to blackmail him about the existence of the investigation, which he had reported to the FBI.
The details of the alleged blackmail attempt were sensational enough and plausible enough to distract attention from his legal and political peril for a day or so, but the realization quickly dawned on all but the dumbest among us that being blackmailed for something does not negate the truth about that of which you are being blackmailed. On the contrary, trying to blackmail me for being under investigation for robbing a bank is strong evidence I am under investigation for robbing a bank, and it raises the real possibility that I may have robbed a bank. So this gambit, to which Gaetz continues to return from time to time as he flounders, is a head scratcher.
Gaetz’s next defense is the well worn witch hunt card so often played with masterful skill by his mentor, Donald Trump: The ubiquitous left and their mainstream media assassins are trying to destroy another innocent champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way. And he references the malice of “the Garland Justice Department” in this context. The problem with this narrative is that the investigation of Gaetz began during the Trump presidency, and then Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation, to which he did not demur. Gaetz’s initial hunters were his homies; the Garland Justice Department is just carrying on the work they began.
Gaetz’s third line of defense is the Jesuitical care with which his denials are constructed. He has never paid for sex, he says, but he admits he has been quite generous with various young women with whom he had sex, his generosity being a tribute to their many fine qualities as human beings. And he says he has never had sex with a minor since he became an adult. He may have been deep into his 30s, and his companions may not have been old enough to drink, but they were old enough to vote, and that is good enough for government work.
Gaetz’s travails have surprised no one who knows him, which may explain why those who might be expected to rush to his aid are noticeably reticent about doing so. His right-wing brother in arms, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, dodged the issue by declining to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, and the silence of his master down Mar-A-Lago way is deafening. The conventional wisdom seems to be that it is better to await events on this one than to defy the odds.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.