The Matt Gaetz GOP Future
Plus, pictures from inside this weekend’s MAGA Americafest
I WAS SITTING ON THE PRESS RISER thumbing through my phone, half-listening to Vivek Ramaswamy rattle through his usual Debate Team Demagogue shtick, when the topic turned to one of his favorite lightning rods: the Great Replacement Theory.
“Let me speak an obvious truth: The Great Replacement theory is not some grand, right-wing conspiracy theory. It is a basic statement of the Democratic party’s immigration platform,” he said. (Fact check: dangerously false.)
Behind me, a brood of brosephs let out an animal yawp of support for this based apostasy.
Once the speech had concluded, I decided to pick the brains of this rising generation of right-wing activists. They liked Vivek fine, but when I asked whom they were most excited to see here at Americafest, Turning Point USA’s yearly MAGAchella, the answer was Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz appealed to them because he was relatively young, he had succeeded in scalping the establishment speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and he shared their skepticism of foreign interventionism. (These younguns were not just against support for Ukraine, but against it for Israel and Taiwan, too.)
This was an interesting data point in its own right, but later that night, a MAGA strategist suggested that the bros may be on to something. This person thought Gaetz is on track to succeed Ron DeSantis in Florida and that he could become a leading GOP contender for president in 2028 or 2032. At least if Tucker doesn’t run. (On stage, Gaetz himself called for a Trump/Tucker 2024 ticket, to raucous cheers.)
To be honest, Gaetz as the Emerging Republican Tribune is a prospect that I had not previously considered, which I assume is true for most people. For starters, Gaetz’s approval in Florida is middling at best. And, it is obviously rather silly to speculate about the 2028 primary at this stage. (Heck, it might be a hair optimistic to assume there will even be primary elections in 2028, as Liz Cheney has recently argued.)
Even so, I find it noteworthy that in this venue, among the people who will have the greatest influence over the future direction of the party (emphasis intended!), the idea of Gaetz as successor didn’t seem at all preposterous.
The power of groups like this within the GOP somehow remains elusive to many commentators and strategists. Even people who think they run the Republican party—Fox News, McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, the right-wing donor class—don’t get it.
The so-called power brokers have been foiled again and again when their interests have gone against those of the grassroots faithful. The party poohbahs didn’t want Trump in ’16. They wanted to move on from him in 2021. They wanted to keep McCarthy in power this year. And they wanted DeSantis or Youngkin in 2024.
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.
Why would it be any different next time?
When Gaetz first began actively trying to unseat McCarthy, he was a pariah both within his own conference and on primetime Fox. He had the support of literally no one besides Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and the sorts of grassroots Republicans who consume MAGA media, attend things like Americafest, call congressional offices, and show up to the National Mall with strength when instructed to by their president.
And it turns out that that support, along with the backing of a mere seven of his colleagues, was enough. Because, as JVL frequently points out, in our system, political power in a party emanates from The People; you can only wield power for so long without staying in their good graces.
For what it’s worth, I had a chance to ask Gaetz about the 2028 glide-path thesis when I bumped into him following my unplanned star turn on Bannon’s live taping of the War Room. (You can guess how that crowd reacted when I got on the mic and shouted out “the legitimate president of the United States, Joe Biden.”) Gaetz naturally demurred and joked about how the media was trying to run him out of town two minutes ago, and now people like me are arguing he’s on the come-up.
Granting those well-taken parlor game caveats, let’s just consider the hypothetical.
Is Gaetz 2028 really that crazy? Is it crazier than a racist game show host who implied 9-11 was an inside job (on the debate stage, no less) soundly defeating the successor to party royalty, The Republican Savior, and the biggest field of legitimate presidential contenders in modern history?
Doesn’t seem so to me. I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it, of course. But if past events are a predictor of future results, someone in the Gaetz mold will be a much better bet than whatever quarter-zip-vested stooge the GOP donor class ends up getting behind.
Here is the aforementioned video of me getting booed and more scenes from my time at the gathering.