Former House Speaker John Boehner’s new book landed just in time to underscore the point that Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has been making in spades: The Republican Party is a hot mess. In “On The House: A Washington Memoir,” the Ohio Republican bluntly assesses the paltry intelligence and dubious character of many of the leading figures in the Republican caucus.
“You could be a total moron and get elected just by having an R next to your name,” Boehner wrote about the crop of House Republicans elected in the 2010 midterms. Boehner calls the Republican caucus “Crazytown,” describing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as “the new head lunatic leading the way.”
With last week’s reports that he is under investigation for sex trafficking, the spotlight is on Gaetz, who had become the darling of MAGA world for his role as Donald Trump’s Mini-Me. No one on Earth, let alone in Congress, has backed Trump more vocally than Gaetz, who called him “the greatest president in my lifetime — one of the greatest presidents our country has ever had, maybe the greatest president our country has ever had.”
The Florida congressman has denied any wrongdoing in a series of public statements by turns ill-advised and bizarre. “My family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” he tweeted. One intuitively senses that this is not an accurate or complete summary of Gaetz’s legal situation.
Schadenfreude, defined as satisfaction at someone else’s bad news, is generally to be resisted, but Gaetz has not made that easy. Before news of the federal investigation surfaced, he had amassed quite a record of foul behavior.
In 2018, he invited a Holocaust denier to be his guest at the State of the Union. In February 2019, the night before Trump fixer Michael Cohen was to testify to Congress, Gaetz tweeted at Cohen: “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.” This bit of “message-sending” earned him a rebuke from the House Ethics Committee. Later that year, he led 30 of his Republican colleagues in storming a closed, secure deposition of a Pentagon official testifying about Trump’s withholding of military aid as a lever to extract Ukraine’s announcement of an “investigation” into the Biden family.
In March 2020, he mocked concerns about COVID-19 by wearing a gas mask during a House debate over combating the pandemic. And hours after the Jan. 6 ransacking of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, he dutifully parroted the claptrap that the marauders were “masquerading as Trump supporters and were, in fact, members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
But Gaetz, a charlatan if ever there were one, has plenty of kindred spirits in the Republican congressional caucus, two-thirds of whom voted to overturn the presidential election because Trump had lost it. There’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who supported executing Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and claimed that Hillary Clinton murdered a child in a satanic ritual. There’s Rep. Lauren Boebert, who, asked about her endorsement of the nutcase conspiratorial movement QAnon, gushed that it is “motivating and encouraging and bringing people together stronger” and “it could be really great for our country.” There’s Rep. Mo Brooks, who exhorted the crowd of Trump supporters on Jan. 6 before they smashed up the Capitol: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass. ... Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?” There’s Rep. Paul Gosar, who promoted fraudulent “Stop the Steal” rallies and repeatedly called President Joe Biden “an illegitimate usurper.”
The sad fact is that Gaetz and Gang are not outliers. They represent the core of the Republican Party, and not merely its hard core. As long as that remains true, America will have Crazytown to contend with.