Matt Gaetz had a hell of a month. What’s next for the Florida Republican?
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — When GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz gained nationwide notoriety as one of Donald Trump’s loudest defenders, the smart money was that he was angling for a job in the Trump administration or a permanent gig on Fox News.
A lot’s changed since then.
Gaetz was a central figure in the chaotic election of Speaker Kevin McCarthy last month — asserting outsize power from the fringes of the House Republican Conference. This week, he learned that federal prosecutors won’t charge him in a long-running sex trafficking probe, clearing a dark cloud that’d been hanging over his career for more than two years.
So what’s next for the congressman with a seemingly endless capacity for drawing attention?
Several colleagues and those in Florida Republican circles anticipate Gaetz could run for governor of the Sunshine State in 2026 after Gov. Ron DeSantis leaves office. DeSantis is expected to run for the White House in 2024.
GOP state Rep. Alex Andrade said this week’s news that Gaetz won’t face federal charges is “as close to vindicated to a politician can be” and, along with Gaetz’s recent tangle with McCarthy, could make him a formidable foe in a contested Florida GOP gubernatorial primary.
“His ability to win a larger primary I think is as strong as anyone,” Andrade said. “I think he’s a serious candidate for any Republican primary for any race he wants to get into.”
It would be an impressive turnaround for the 40-year-old Republican, who just a year ago was facing a barrage of salacious headlines. Gaetz, who denied wrongdoing throughout the probe, now has key positions in the GOP-controlled House and could take advantage of Florida’s seeming transformation into a red state — all fuel for him if he seeks higher office.
Gaetz on Thursday declined to comment on his political future.
Some of the calculus depends also on what DeSantis will do. The Florida governor is widely expected to announce that he’s running for president in the spring, and one former Republican lawmaker familiar with Gaetz’s thinking predicted that if DeSantis becomes president, current Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez would finish out his term and run unopposed. But that path changes if DeSantis remains governor and other statewide elected Republicans run to succeed him.
“If DeSantis finishes his term, you can imagine one or multiple current [Florida] Cabinet members in a crowded primary, or you can imagine an anointing,” said the Republican, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about the dynamics of the race. “Either way, it’s not hard to see how Gaetz comes out of the primary.”
While Gaetz was once part of DeSantis’s inner circle and served on his transition team before his first term, he has endorsed Trump in the 2024 race.
The serious allegations against Gaetz — centering on whether he had sex with a minor — could play a pivotal role in any future statewide campaign. But the accusations didn’t stop voters in his district from giving him another overwhelming victory in 2022 even though his GOP primary opponent aired television ads in northwest Florida about the allegations.
But 2026 is still far away. For now, Gaetz remains an energized member of the House’s slim majority.
Gaetz was critical to McCarthy’s ascent to speaker — even though he didn’t vote for him. After helping deny the California Republican the gavel through a historic 14 rounds of voting, including almost coming to blows with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Gaetz and his five allied holdouts all voted “present” on the 15th round. That allowed McCarthy to secure enough votes to win the speakership with just 216 votes, without Gaetz technically voting for McCarthy.
That vote came after McCarthy had agreed to many of the concessions Gaetz and his group of hardliners asked for, including the ability for any one member to try to oust the speaker, which the Florida Republican compared to a “straitjacket” to the speakership.
Despite nearly thwarting McCarthy’s dreams of becoming speaker, Gaetz has seen his stock in the House rise.
In addition to Gaetz keeping his seat on the high-profile Judiciary Committee, he also secured a spot on a subcommittee that will probe Republicans’ claims of a government weaponized against conservatives. The panel, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), will lead a sweeping probe into some of the party’s favorite targets, including the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community. That perch will undoubtably provide Gaetz a steady stream of publicity.
“I think Kevin McCarthy won and I think Matt Gaetz won,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who is friends with Gaetz.
Burchett added: “I feel like his role has increased.”
John Roberts, chair of the Escambia County Republican Party, said that some GOP members in Gaetz’s home district were “upset” about Gaetz’s opposition to McCarthy and “weren’t happy with the name-calling.”
Roberts, however, predicted the storm would pass and Gaetz could always stick hang around in Congress if he decides against running for higher office.
“It’s a strong safe Republican seat,” Roberts said. “I think he could hold it for a long time if he chooses.”
Matt Dixon contributed to this report.
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