Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, a spoiled 38-year-old adult child of a wealthy Floridian who has never had to earn an honest dollar in his life, is allegedly a part-time predatory teen girl aficionado—something he emphatically denies—and is unquestionably a full-time creep. Quelle surprise: It seems there’s more slime on the representative from Florida’s first district than there is in all of the Everglades.
It’s hard to say what exactly made the exposure of Gaetz’s dirtiness so predictable to people outside the Beltway. It could have been the 16 speeding tickets and DUI, his aspirant daddy relationship with former President Donald Trump, that time he staged a photo of himself to mock COVID-19 by wearing a gas mask, his friendship with alt-right figures like accused Holocaust denier Charles Johnson, appearances in media where he appeared addled, or the fact that he was known to haunt a popular college bar in Tallahassee while he was serving as a state lawmaker.
Maybe it was the time he lamented not being able to “hunt down” antifa like the military hunts terrorists, or the time he publicly expressed creepiness at 22-year-old Tiffany Trump, or the time he threatened a Congressional witness the night before he was supposed to testify and then tried to storm the hearing of a committee he wasn’t on, or the time he tried to storm another impeachment-related hearing that took place in a SCIF. Or maybe it’s his entitled, pugnacious air that reminds everybody of the most annoying guy they went to college with, or the giant dark circles beneath his eyes that waxed and waned like a spring break hangover.
But it was definitely something, as people inside the Beltway displayed a similar level of nonshock. The general response from his party compatriots seems to be: “of course.” In fact, according to reports, many in his party say they saw Gaetz’s PR problems coming from a mile away; then Attorney General Bill Barr, who knew about the investigation, avoided being in photos and on cable news hits with him, and it seems likely some of his colleagues in Congress were doing the same thing to avoid the bad PR that was inevitably coming.
If that’s the case, then why the fuck didn’t any of Gaetz’s congressional colleagues do anything? Why didn’t any “party officials”?
After the Times reported on Monday that the FBI was looking into a relationship Gaetz allegedly had with a 17-year-old girl, Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing while insisting that the real victim here was Matt Gaetz and his family, who Gaetz said were being extorted for $25 million. Gaetz’s damage control plan involved a disastrous appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show that Carlson later called “the weirdest interview” he’d ever done.
As last week cranked on, more information came to light, each tidbit more skin-crawling than the last. It now seems that Gaetz wasn’t the target of the FBI’s original investigation, but rather was caught up in a child sex trafficking involving a crooked small-time Florida official and friend of Gaetz’s named Joel Greenberg. Greenberg was indicted in 2020 for, among other things, sex-trafficking a 17-year-old girl whom Gaetz may also have had sex with. Investigators are looking into whether the disgusting duo was arranging sexual encounters and commensurate payments online as recently as last year. Gaetz has been a member of congress since 2017.
But wait, there’s more. A story The Miami Herald published in 2017 resurfaced in which Gaetz was alleged to have created a “game” with other young Florida legislators, the object of which was to sleep with state house interns, married colleagues, aides, and lobbyists. (In reality he didn’t really “create” that game inasmuch as he copied a frat house game Lifetime has been making movies about since at least the mid-1990s, so let’s not give Gaetz too much creative credit; even his predatory behavior is derivative and unoriginal.) Reports also allege that Gaetz would brag about the women he’d slept with, sometimes showing nude photos of them to colleagues on the House floor.
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” Gaetz’s office told The New York Times not long before Gaetz’s comms director quit amid a scandal that is very much about Gaetz, in one way or the other, paying for sex.
If typing all that made me feel like I needed to take a shower, then what the hell is wrong with Gaetz’s congressional colleagues who suspected or witnessed this behavior but did approximately jack shit to stop it? I’m serious. What is wrong with the people who knew about this and yet were more concerned with their own publicity than they were with the safety of their coworkers, upholding of the law, and the business of the country?
Not that I have any faith at all that Republicans will do the right thing here and take real steps to get Gaetz out of the Washington swamp and back to the Florida swamp where he belongs. The GOP of 2021 is more adept at throwing fits on and about Twitter than they are at displaying any degree of moral courage. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, continuing to run his out-of-control caucus like an overwhelmed babysitter the kids have locked in the bathroom, has not stripped Gaetz of his committee assignments, despite the seriousness of the allegations and the advanced state of the investigation. Gaetz’s Republican colleagues were brave enough to speak off the record about how they always knew the guy was rotten, but not brave enough to come out publicly and demand accountability.
And what of all or any of the record-setting number of Republican women who swept into office last fall? Why aren’t we hearing from them? Surely, at least one of the 30 Republican women who currently work on the same floor where Gaetz was allegedly flashing nudes without the consent of their subjects has thoughts about this? Every time a Democrat is accused of sexual misconduct, the press looks to the party’s women for answers. Why aren’t we asking Republican women what they think of all this? It’s not fair to only expect answers from women on issues relating to sexual misconduct, but it’s also not fair to pretend that their insight isn’t important.
Why aren’t we hearing from Rep. Nancy Mace, who in 2019 revealed on the floor of the South Carolina state house that she is a sexual assault survivor? What about Rep. Michelle Fischbach, who cosponsored an anti-sex-trafficking bill when she served in the Minnesota legislature? How about Iowa’s Ashley Hinson, who as a state lawmaker wrote a bill designed to “ensure that these predators would be held accountable” in public schools, and was so proud of that bill that she ran an ad about it when she ran for Congress? Why haven’t we heard from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, one of the most powerful Republican women in Washington, who in 2018 cheered the passage of a law that updated behavioral standards governing members of Congress and their employees with a statement that read, in part, “Members of Congress must walk the talk and lead by example. There is no room for sexual harassment in any workplace, and there should be zero tolerance for it on Capitol Hill.” What about Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne, who once cheekily tweeted #MeToo in celebration of Bret Kavanaugh being confirmed to SCOTUS? (Wait a minute; seems like she may be part of the problem.)
Either Republican men and women stand up and say something about Gaetz, or they remain silent and therefore complicit in perpetuating a workplace culture that actively keeps half the population out.
Because here’s how all this told-ya-so’ing about Gaetz is so damning of the insiders who say they knew and yet did nothing: Every time women share stories of feeling unsafe or preyed upon at work, they’re questioned. Women complaining about fratty behavior from adult men are told that “not all men” are like this, that there are “good men.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reflexively qualified an observation about male misconduct by first pointing out that I know that not all men are bad. But any person—man or woman—who doesn’t speak up when they witness sexual misconduct from a colleague is involved in making sure the exceptions to the “not all men” rule are always insulated from punishment from people who don’t want to get involved. If you’re a member of congress of either party who witnessed Matt Gaetz flashing nudes on the floor of the House, you’re involved. If you knew that he was running around Washington with suspiciously young-looking women, you’re involved.
Journalists fielding on-background calls about this should be asking why so many people in the know did so little.