Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has come up with what would seem to be the perfect defense for a Republican audience. In a Washington Examiner editorial, Gaetz explains how the whole series of charges against him are nothing more than fake news from “leftist television anchors” who are after Gaetz because he “loathes the swamp.” He then compares his current troubles to the very-credible accusations made against Brett Kavanaugh, and the Senate verified claims connecting Donald Trump’s campaign to Russia.

But as Gaetz rails that these “bizarre claims” are coming out because he’s decided to take on the FBI and the “Biden Justice Department” in some unspecified way, there seems to be a distinct flood of rats looking for the exit ramp from S.S. Gaetz.

According to Politico, those eager to walk, not run, away from association with Gaetz include Trump, right-wing pundits like Sean Hannity, and other Republican members of Congress. According to one Trump staffer, when it comes to the accusations against Gaetz, “Not a lot of people are surprised.” 

The most surprising thing about Gaetz’s current position is just how unsurprising every Republican in D.C. seems to find it. But there’s a good reason: Not only did Gaetz show off naked pictures and videos of his supposed conquests to other Republican members of Congress, his staff apparently sent around videos of his most outrageous exploits to their counterparts with other Republican officials. 

When it comes to Matt Gaetz, Republicans weren’t facing vague rumors about his conduct, they were getting bragging self-confessions from the man himself. And they were getting both photos and video, some of it delivered by Gaetz right from the floor of the House.

Part of what made Gaetz feel as if sending his sex tapes to fellow Republicans acceptable can be seen in a new Orlando Sentinel article that describes Gaetz’s feelings about such images. Gaetz believes that once he has an “intimate” picture of someone, that image is his to use however he wants. That includes feeding his ego, or using the image as revenge porn. Which is why Gaetz as the primary source of opposition to a bill against revenge porn when he served in the Florida house. 

All of this suggests that the biggest crime connected to Matt Gaetz may not be transporting an underage girl across state lines and putting her up at a hotel for the purposes of sex, or Gaetz’s long-running partnership with Republican official and fake ID supplier Joel Greenberg. The biggest crime is the conspiracy of silence among Republican lawmakers who continued to protect Gaetz even though they were seeing graphic evidence of his behavior. They knew what he was doing. And they were just fine with it until Gaetz was caught.

How bad do Republicans think Gaetz’s actions were? When Rep. Jim Jordan faced reports that he was connected to a coverup involving dozens of cases of sexual abuse at Ohio State, six Republican lawmakers stepped forward to put a statement of support for Jordan on the record. None of them has offered anything similar for Gaetz. (Of course, Gaetz has been praised by new Republican leader Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. So there’s that.)

  • As CNN reported last week, Gaetz sent to other members of Congress “photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with.” This isn’t something that happened just once, but repeatedly.
  • As Politico reported on Tuesday, Gaetz’s staffers “would regularly send embarrassing videos of their boss to other GOP operatives.” Not once, but “regularly.” 
  • As The Washington Post reported last Friday, Gaetz “repeatedly boasted” about women he met through Greenberg, who has been facing at least 33 indictments since last summer, including sex trafficking of a minor.
  • As Florida Trend reported in 2015, Gaetz not only led the opposition to a revenge porn bill, he was ultimately only one of two representatives to vote against the bill.

Over and over again, Gaetz showed Republicans exactly who he was. But until word of an actual FBI investigation made the news, not one of them made a move to speak out against Gaetz. No Republican turned those nude videos into an ethics complaint. No Republican warned that Gaetz was bragging about the women he picked up through an indicted sex trafficker.

Even now, the best Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will say is that Gaetz will be removed from his campaign committees should the accusations “turn out to have merit.” That’s a position of incredible weakness—especially from someone who very likely has already seen nude pics passed along by Gaetz.

The Republican willingness to accept this behavior from a representative is nothing short of disgusting.

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