He followed in the footsteps of the former President, blaming “cancel culture” for his troubles, fashioning himself as a crusader for the principles that Trump espoused and vowing that he was “built for the battle” while addressing the “Save America Summit” held by Women for America First at Trump National Doral in Miami.
“Let me assure you, I have not yet begun to fight,” Gaetz said. “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere. The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life, to wild — and I mean wild — conspiracy theories.”
Positioning himself as a champion for Trump’s “America first” agenda, he added that he wouldn’t be intimidated by “lying media” and again said he was a victim of extortion — a claim he trotted out on Fox News last week after the investigation became public. Standing in front of the Trump club, he used many of the same phrases that the former President adopted when both his personal and professional conduct has been under scrutiny.
“I may be a canceled man in some corners. I may even be a wanted man by the deep state,” Gaetz said. “But I hear the millions of Americans who feel forgotten, canceled, ignored, marginalized and targeted. I draw confidence knowing the silent majority is growing louder by the day in this great country.”
A distraction for a party out of power
Gaetz is just one member of the GOP — but his jaw-dropping speech was yet another example of how the Republican Party is still in the thrall of Trump, unable to move beyond his tactics and obsessions as they strategize about how to win in 2022.
After Trump’s tumultuous tenure in the White House and his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, there are clear warning signs that the GOP message is failing to resonate or even break through as the party shapes its agenda headed into the midterm elections.
The House Ethics Committee’s announcement that it was looking into potential misconduct by Gaetz added another layer of jeopardy to his situation.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” Ethics Chairman Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, and ranking Republican member Jackie Walorski, an Indiana Republican, said in a joint statement Friday.
In response, Gaetz’s office told CNN that the “allegations are blatantly false and have not been validated by a single human being willing to put their name behind them.”
But in classic Trumpian fashion, Gaetz distracted from those allegations Friday evening, devoting much of his speech to his efforts to spot the potential of women on his staff as he said he elevated them to more prominent roles.
On Saturday, Gaetz’s office released a lengthy statement attacking Georgia Democrats over the corporate backlash to the new law, which misspelled their names, and hitting Biden for his handling of the border crisis. It didn’t mention the allegations against the congressman.
It was, yet again, a master class in deflection, one likely to impress the former President, who still holds sway over a party trying to chart its course without him in the White House.
This story has been updated with a statement from Gaetz’s office.