US President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, US January 30, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
Freshman Northwest Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz suddenly finds himself defending a ticket he gave to a controversial alt-right news troll and alleged Holocaust denier, Charles “Chuck” Johnson. His comments defending his action, inviting Johnson to sit in the congressional visitors’ gallery during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, erupted in adverse criticism from local and national media. That concerned his generally supportive conservative constituents in the predominately Republican 1st Congressional District.
Some are perplexed, calling his exculpatory comments “inexplicable and reprehensible.” There is even discussion about a possible Republican primary battle for his seat in the 2018 midterm elections. The irony is that Gaetz is also an Israel supporter. He briefed local AIPAC supporters upon his return from a congressional trip that met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in August 2017.
But that is not the only controversy. Gaetz has achieved national media prominence calling for the firing of special prosecutor and former FBI chief Robert Mueller on the grounds of selecting FBI investigators with alleged Democratic bias who made contributions to the Clinton Foundation. He suggested during a recent MSNBC interview that he had no problem with Mueller’s qualifications. Rather, Gaetz suggested Mueller should have made better picks from the pool of available non-partisan prosecutors.
Andy Marlette, editorial cartoonist for the Pensacola News Journal,
lambasted Gaetz over the Chuck Johnson affair in two scathing drawings. One depicted Gaetz on a “blind date” with an unidentified person hiding behind KKK regalia and wearing a Nazi arm band. In a Pensacola News Journal op-ed, “Northwest Florida, has Gaetz embarrassed you yet?” Marlette commented about this episode:
“Gaetz’s latest bungle to make national news happened last week at President Trump’s State of the Union address, where our congressman’s guest of honor was Chuck Johnson, a 29-year-old, alt-right internet nerd who made a name for himself online by using the n-word, denying the Holocaust and analyzing the ‘physical and mental differences between races and ethnicities,’ according to POLITICO Florida’s Marc Caputo.”
Gaetz was hard pressed to rationalize his act when questioned by national media. Gaetz’s comment, captured by Mediaite, even denied that Johnson had denied the Holocaust:
“Some of the claims against Mr. Johnson are not accurate. He’s not a Holocaust denier; he’s not a white supremacist. Those are unfortunate characterizations of him, but I did not know he was as perhaps as infamous and controversial as he was when he came by my office.”
During his interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Gaetz alleged that Johnson had made contributions to a foundation established by the late Elie Wiesel. Further, he defended his InfoWars appearance with host Alex Jones by insisting that “someone has to go on these extremist programs to get the truth told.” He added that, “I think that when... we only talk to audiences or people that agree with us, I think we end up in a myopic state of politics.”
Elected on November 8, 2016, in the tumult of President Trump’s national electoral victory, he was also on stage during President Trump’s multiple visits to Pensacola. Gaetz is the scion of a powerful political dynasty. His father, Don Gaetz, is a former Florida Senate president. The younger Gaetz ran for his father’s vacated Florida House seat and was elected in 2010, despite his arrest, serving three consecutive terms.
Based on the Cook Partisan Voting Index, the First Florida Congressional District is the most Republican district in Florida, 15th in rank in the US. Because of the significant US Navy and Air Force bases in his district, Gaetz is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as Budget and Judiciary Committee.
Will 35-year-old Gaetz survive this kerfuffle? What happens when local AIPAC members encounter him at the Washington, DC, policy conference next month? Will prospective Republican candidates for his seat successfully file petitions forcing a primary battle before April 2, 2017? Will he become Mr. Teflon due to his loyalty to President Trump and skate through this current crisis? Stay tuned.
The author is a senior editor of The New English Review and a registered voter in Northwest Florida’s 1st Congressional District.