U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz began his first of a series of “America First” rallies Friday in “America’s Friendliest Hometown,” in front of a rapturous, raucous crowd on his 39th birthday.
“We send a strong message to the weak establishment in both parties. America First isn’t going away … we’re going on tour!”
The Congressman, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, countermessaged a wide-ranging federal investigation into the Congressman that continues to generate news coverage and social media speculation.
“The deep state is real,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz referred to himself as a “wanted” man, a “canceled” man, but a “Florida man,” a line practiced from the Trump rally circuit of the pandemic election of 2020.
“Unbossed, unbought, unbowed: that is the mantra of America First,” Gaetz said, channeling former U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who used the line in a very different context (a historic presidential campaign) than here.
The Panhandle Republican used familiar us-against-them constructs, whipping up the crowd with very few dead spots in the oratory. If the energy flagged, Gaetz simply extolled or channeled Donald Trump and excoriated those forces aligned against Trump, Gaetz, and Greene, including the “America Last” media.
“They try to defame, deplatform, and destroy what they cannot control,” Gaetz said of “Big Government, Big Media, and Big Tech.”
Greene opened up for Gaetz, and almost immediately advanced discredited claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged as part of a cheerful fusillade of MAGA-friendly pandering, soundbites, jokes, and conspiracy theories.
“Do you guys really think he won? I didn’t see this kind of support for a man who stayed in the basement for an entire year campaigning, did you,” Greene said to cheers.
Shock lines were the Congresswoman’s stock-in-trade, delivered with a pause at the end as if roadtesting crowd reaction for future engagements.
“You’d have thought a bomb went off in there,” Greene recounted when talking about her penchant for calling for recorded votes.
Greene also maligned the unemployed for taking “bailout checks, staying home and not wanting to go to work.”
“There’s only two genders, male and female. Trust the science,” Greene jibed at another point.
The spectacle obscures the larger issue, which is a probe of some consequence.
Reportedly, federal investigators are probing a 2018 trip Gaetz took with Dr. Jason Pirozzolo and Halsey Beshears to the Bahamas. Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are examining whether Gaetz took gifts, including travel and paid escorts, in exchange for political favors, according to CNN. Gaetz denies any wrongdoing.
“I have not sex-trafficked anyone. A 17-year-old, a person of legal age,” Gaetz said on Newsmax this week in a primetime appearance. “These allegations are false. And as I’ve stated before, the anonymous allegations against me range from total distortions of my life to these crazy wild conspiracy theories that will never be proven.”
A House Ethics Committee inquiry was launched last month, and will probe “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.”
Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg faces a deadline of May 15 to enter a plea deal that could lead to damaging information against the congressman.
Greene is not without controversy herself — the congresswoman was stripped of her congressional assignments last February for incendiary social media posts expressing racist views, promoting conspiracy theories and endorsing threats of violence against elected officials.
Gaetz, for his part, continues to cling to Gov. Ron DeSantis, milking the Governor’s name for an applause line during an encore. He reminded the crowd that he was with the DeSantis campaign when “you could fit the whole campaign in a phone booth and still have room.”
The event closed with a full-throated chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the Congressman, hundreds of hearty lungs belting out a few lines in tribute.