As a lifelong political conservative, I have grown profoundly annoyed with the “Trump wing” of the GOP. I cannot think of anything less conservative – or less American, really – than believing folks should have to kiss a specific individual’s ring to have a career in politics. Lest anyone forget, we fought a war in this country not to have a monarch. Being an American involves recognizing that differences of opinion and honest competition makes us stronger. If you hate the mainstream media and cancel culture for policing conformity, how can you enjoy Trump “holding court” in Mar-a-Lago? I certainly do not. It is absurd that the GOP goes along with any of this nonsense.
Over the past several years, I was not a “Never-Trumper.” I had a pragmatic view of Trump: He had many policies I liked and some I passionately hated. On the whole, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tended to agree with people who believed he was treated unfairly by the media and hysterical partisans on the left. (“Trump gets two scoops of ice cream!” “Michael Avenatti would make a great president!” “Putin is the real leader of the US!” I mean, really, get some professional help.) Having worked closely with politicians for many years, I have never met a saint among them and I don’t look for saints in the ballot box. The best you can hope for in any election is competency. Trump seemed to grasp the upside down world we lived in post-globalization and had a praise-worthy tendency to speak some inconvenient truths.
But in 2020, my willingness to give Trump the benefit of the doubt was nuked spectacularly. I was writing on this blog from the very beginning of the coronavirus panic that Fauci could not be trusted, that the lockdowns were going to destroy the country and must be stopped, that there was every reason to be skeptical of the need for more drastic emergency powers. But Trump wanted to be perceived as a “war-time president,” so he went along with all of it. He gave Fauci a daily stage and turned him into a household name, and we are still living with that old fart’s completely unscientific bullshit. This stuff was predictably stupid and downright evil on its face, and Trump gladly enabled all of it. His behavior last year was intolerable.
The one totally fair criticism anyone can offer about the Trump presidency is he is a terrible manager with a long history of trusting terrible people. The man self-selects saboteurs – it would be a fascinating thing to explore from a psychological perspective if we weren’t all living with the aftermath. And that pretty much makes him a bad executive. In the end, Trump failed my competency test. But if you point that out to Trump’s base, someone who has been a Republican for like five minutes is going to call you a RINO. They live in the either-or world that people with simple minds tend to favor.
What really gets me about the Trump era in the GOP, however, is the batshit storytelling and gullibility among Trump loyalists. I’m definitely not calling Trump a Nazi, but have you ever read about Heinrich Himmler’s obsession with the occult? His search for the Holy Grail because he thought it had magical powers that would help the Axis powers win the war? His belief that white people were the descendants of Atlantis? That’s what Trump loyalists sound like to me when I encounter them online now. They are as utterly gone mentally as the people on the left who spent three months listening to Stormy Daniels describe Trump’s anatomy.
Trump lost the election for no other reason than he let the coronavirus hysteria flourish and created a brand for Fauci. Without that, we would not have had easily manipulated mail-in voting on a grand scale. Without that, the economy he built would not have turned into a Depression-like downward spiral. Trump made his bed and he gets to sleep in it. (Unfortunately, so do we.)
But Trump could not accept that. He surrounded himself with Rasputin-esque characters like Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. Even when he claimed to have distanced himself from them, his wink-wink comments online revealed they were still quite close and he was personally under their spell. These people spun fabulous stories online about computer systems being programmed to switch votes, military raids on secret servers overseas. Everyone knew there were Trump-driven conspiracy theorist groups out there, but after the election, these people started coming out of the woodworks. If you were a vocal conservative with any presence on social media, you got to see how many of your seemingly normal acquaintances had been radicalized by these nutters in private.
It is thus not at all surprising that Matt Gaetz – a central figure in amplifying all of these wild stories – is now spinning one about his own role in a federal sex trafficking investigation. This fits the pattern of the Trump wing of the GOP: You have a lot of folks in Trump’s orbit who cynically assume his base will believe literally anything. So far, they haven’t been proven wrong.
For those who are unfamiliar with what’s happening with Gaetz, the New York Times revealed days ago that Gaetz is under investigation by the FBI for having sex with a minor and illegally paying for her to travel across state lines. Gaetz’s crew was obviously aware this story was coming out, because the day before it did, they floated the rumor among conservative media that he was considering not running for re-election and instead going to be a commentator on Newsmax, the favorite cable news channel of Q Anon freaks. This is what politicians do when they know a scandal is coming – “Aw, well, I did not want to be a politician anymore anyway. I am too good for this drama.”
Once the story broke, Gaetz started spinning a wild tale about how a lawyer in Alabama – who was a former FBI agent, so you obviously cannot trust him, wink-wink – was trying to extort $25 million from Gaetz’s (wealthy) family to finance the release of an FBI agent who has been held captive in Iran since 2007 and is probably dead. Gaetz said his father – a prominent Republican here in Florida, former president of the state senate – had been wearing a wire in meetings with this dastardly attorney at the request of the FBI, which allegedly has an on-going investigation into this scheme. He named the lawyer, who works in the same general area as Gaetz’s district in the Florida panhandle, That lawyer has told the media Gaetz is insane. Gaetz explained that the Deep State deliberately planted this story with the New York Times to sabotage the alleged counter-investigation into the investigation. For anyone who has followed the Deep State narrative in Q-adjacent outlets like The Federalist, these far-fetched dueling investigations stories are familiar territory. (Any day now, the Truth will be revealed. Just you wait and see.)
Gaetz has been receiving zero support from conservatives in DC, who are pretty seasoned in considering the merits of scandals and instinctively know better. Kavanaugh’s confirmation this is not. Gaetz then did a bizarre interview on Tucker Carlson’s show this week. In it, he tried to get Tucker to agree with him that he was innocent, and presented Tucker as someone who could ratify his story about extortion. Tucker did not take the bait, and instead sat there silently through most of it, before outright denying that he could provide supportive evidence. One will remember that Tucker also correctly anticipated Sidney Powell’s meltdown, even before she lost it in a similarly bizarre press conference about election fraud. His audience doesn’t seem to get that he has the scuttlebutt. Tellingly, when Tucker asked Gaetz when he first learned the FBI was investigating him, he demurred and went right back to talking about “when this really became an issue for my family.” It’s like he has been taking lessons from the Clintons.
But Gaetz’s story has been largely absorbed by Trump’s base without even a smidgen of skepticism. Why? Because after Q Anon, the Kraken, stories about how January 6th was an Antifa false flag, etc., they have been conditioned to believe anything – in fact, the more wild the story, the better.
You could see Gaetz watching the news unfold and thinking, “I need a counter-narrative. It needs to involve the Deep State and a global conspiracy. Then I will get out and demand the FBI release the wires, which I know they cannot do, and since all of this involves a real on-going investigation, they won’t comment, even to disagree with me.” Jussie Smollet is not an exclusively liberal phenomenon.
The thing is, if you know much about Gaetz as a person, it’s actually not all that surprising that he’d get caught with an underage girl. I’m not saying I have knowledge of it happening, just that I would not be shocked if it did. And I am not a #MeToo activist who says things like that lightly or thinks a hug without written consent counts as sexual assault. The guy is a creep.
Gaetz is pushing 40, but he has made it no secret that he loves him some jailbait. He has never been the politician with a perfectly-coifed partner that reads to kindergartners in her spare time. He has had a parade of college-aged girls in his dating pool even recently and proudly bangs his interns. (Does that remind you of another politician?) He loves to talk about getting laid. In fact, his response to the media on the investigation was “the last time I had sex with a 17-year-old, I was 17” – just so you know he was getting lucky in high school. Like I said, Kavanaugh he is not. He’s more of the Girls Gone Wild persuasion.
I don’t know about you, but if I sent my daughter off to college and found out she was dating a politician that was two decades older than her, that he was essentially trying to rent her with travel and presents (or, as he puts it, he is a “generous partner”… gross), I would be sitting her down to talk about the ways of the world. Gaetz is exactly the guy shotgun-wielding conservative fathers warn their daughters about.
As a mother, there is no one on God’s green earth that I hate more than people who prey on children. If Gaetz had sex with a minor and took advantage of her, prison is too good for him, in my opinion. It is a sick, sick day among conservatives that the Deep State delusions of the Trump era are able to be used as a shield for something as serious as this. Even worse, everyone seemed to already know about it.
From a political perspective, the Gaetz affair also reveals why – from a purely political perspective – it is stupid to continue to allow Trump, a person with a well-known track record for picking bad people, to vet GOP talent. Gaetz is someone Trump actively promoted, based on Trump’s sole criterion that Gaetz was willing to fawn all over him. If anything, Trump should be viewed as a contrarian indicator for political talent.
The GOP needs to move past the Trump experiment and get back to its roots. It is fine to be ambivalent about those years, but we cannot be ambivalent about moving on. We need people who can talk credibly about fiscal conservatism and the kind of culture we want to have. The future of our country depends on us reclaiming who we were.