Matt Gaetz’s political action committee is launching a six-figure ad buy to defend the lawmakers against a string of sex-related allegations. The New York Times reported late last month that he is under federal investigation over the alleged sex-trafficking of a 17-year-old girl. As evidence mounts of his illicit activities and connections, Gaetz is naturally claiming it’s all part of a liberal plot to destroy him. “Now we see what’s really behind all of this: Democratic Party and media-driven smears aimed at taking out a Congressman of the United States,” a spokesperson for the Friends of Matt Gaetz, the PAC now serving as a stand-in for the actual friends Gaetz doesn’t seem to have, said in the statement announcing the ad spot, according to Politico.
The commercial, which will run in his panhandle district and also nationally, will represent some of the only on-air support for Gaetz as he tries to salvage his reputation. This is because most of the influential allies who would typically be defending their fellow MAGA warrior have abandoned him.
Gaetz knows better than everyone that the best advertising is not buying commercial time; it’s having people with ostensible credibility — members of Congress are great for this — going on TV to stress that all of your transgressions are part of a Democratic or Fake News or Deep State scheme to take you down because they hate how much you love America. Doing this for former President Trump to the tune of hundreds of media appearances a year is how Gaetz made a name for himself in the first place. If his colleagues in Congress were doing the same for him now, he probably wouldn’t need to use six figures worth of donor money to buy air time to do it for himself.
But they’re not doing the same for him.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who defended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s racism, conspiracy theorizing, and other assorted ravings earlier this year — called the allegations against Gaetz “serious” before noting that people need to “get all the information.” That’s about it. Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was similarly measured in commenting on the investigation on Wednesday. “It’s hard to speculate on rumors, but if something really formal happened from Justice, we would of course react and take action,” he said this week.
House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) on Gaetz:
"It's hard to speculate on rumors, but if something really formal happened from Justice we would of course react and take action." pic.twitter.com/cJGjom922o
— The Recount (@therecount) April 14, 2021
What about the Deep State, guys? What about the Fake News? Isn’t this all a hoax? Where’s the indignation over this left-wing smear job against one of your own?
Gaetz did get a tepid nod of approval from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Beavis to Gaetz’s Butthead, who said he “believes” Gaetz’s denials. He also has the support of Greene, a very serious lawmaker who recently announced she’s introducing legislation to give “gold medals” to the police fighting Black Lives Matter demonstrators. “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth,” the QAnon-happy conspiracy theorist tweeted late last month. “I stand with @mattgaetz.” Greene has continued to be Gaetz’s most ardent defender in Congress, all while touting her understanding of the “truth.” (Greene has previously claimed mass shootings were staged, Obama is a Muslim, and that the California wildfires were the result of a space laser trying to make room for a high-speed rail project.)
The rest of the Republican Party, however, has mostly stayed mum, which maybe shouldn’t be that surprising considering that, outside of reportedly showing lawmakers pictures of women he said he’d bedded, Gaetz never really made much of an effort to make friends in Congress.
Gaetz did make an effort to ingratiate himself in the Fox News ecosystem, but the network too is keeping its distance. This may be in part because of his truly bizarre appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight the night the Times first reported on the investigation. Gaetz, typically pretty silver-tongued whenever he appears on the network, stumbled through the interview, and on multiple occasions tried to rope Carlson into his own narrative. Carlson was visibly miffed. “That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” the host said after Gaetz left.
What about Sean Hannity, you ask? Gaetz appeared on his show 127 times since August 2017, more than any member of Congress other than Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), according to Media Matters. Hannity has lauded Gaetz off the air, too, describing him as the “Micky Mantle of Congress” during a 2018 campaign rally for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who, oh by the way, is another Gaetz ally who has refused to defend him against the sex-trafficking allegations. “I don’t have anything to say,” DeSantis said when asked to comment on the scandal earlier this week.
Neither does Hannity, who for all his railing about the Deep State’s attempts to take down Trump, has not pointed the finger at bad actors inside the Justice Department as responsible for the investigation into Gaetz. In fact, Hannity hasn’t even brought up the investigation at all. The scandal hasn’t gotten much time anywhere else on the network, either, which was once a cozier home to the Florida congressman than anywhere on Capitol Hill. “It’s highly unlikely you’ll see him on again anytime soon,” a source inside Fox News recently told The Daily Beast.
So Congress is out. Fox News is out. Surely Trump — the Deep State conspiracy theorist and target of multiple sex crime allegations to whom Gaetz has dedicated his political career — will come to his defense … right? Not really. The former president stayed silent on the scandal for days until releasing a short statement last week claiming that Gaetz never asked him for a pardon, as had been reported by the Times, and that it “must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
Days later, CNN reported that Gaetz was refused a meeting with Trump after trying to schedule a visit after the news of the investigation broke. Gaetz has denied the report. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support coming out of Mar-a-Lago.
As he tries to bat back a sex scandal that could spell the end of his time in Congress, and potentially the beginning of his time in an orange jumpsuit, the only real allies Gaetz has are QAnon supporters and a handful of right-wing Twitter figures. He retweeted Randy Quaid the other day. That’s a big one.
The ad buy Gaetz announced on Wednesday is both a sign that he can’t get the support he needs from anyone with power, and that he’s drifting ever further away from traditional Washington, where a politician under investigation for sex crimes might typically try to, you know, keep their name out of the news as much as possible. Instead, Gaetz is treating the scandal like another episode of a reality TV show, and now seems more aligned with the carousel of scandal-ridden Trump World figures than he does with any of his colleagues in the House. Unlike Roger Stone or Michael Cohen or Jason Miller, Gaetz just happens to be a sitting member of Congress.
If Gaetz winds up leaving Congress, then, either against his will or of his own volition, it’s probably not going to have much impact on what he actually does, which is mostly just trolling the libs as much as TV networks will let him come on and do it. Barring a conviction, he could very well end up signing some sort of contract to so exclusively, a move he was reportedly looking into before the news of the investigation broke. Until then, though, it looks like the only way he’s going to be able to get his message out on TV is to spend his donors’ money to buy up 30-second blocks of commercial time.