Consultant Matt Gaetz’s profitable push to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy has ratcheted up hypothesis that the fourth-term Republican congressman already has his eye on his subsequent goal, nonetheless three years away: the Florida governor’s mansion.
Mr. Gaetz, a detailed ally of former President Donald J. Trump, has swatted away rumors that he’s planning to run statewide in 2026. However that hasn’t stopped Florida’s political class from chattering. Lots.
“He’d be the front-runner in any Republican main he needs to run in proper now,” mentioned State Consultant Alex Andrade, a Republican who represents the Pensacola space, which is in Mr. Gaetz’s Panhandle district. “He’s received his finger on the heartbeat of the Republican base higher than anybody I see.”
The bold Mr. Gaetz boasts vital title recognition and is a favourite to obtain Mr. Trump’s endorsement. He is aware of the right way to dominate the information highlight. And he has intensive connections with political operatives, lobbyists and donors from throughout Florida, courting again to his and his father’s years within the State Legislature and to his function main Gov. Ron DeSantis’s transition in 2018.
A lot might occur between now and 2026. However the potential for a brand new job exterior of Washington could be a welcome notion for Mr. Gaetz, who was first elected to the U.S. Home in 2016.
Ousting Mr. McCarthy confirmed how few allies he has inside his get together in Congress, the place he’s brazenly reviled — simply seven members joined him to assist topple the speaker. Many Republican lawmakers accused Mr. Gaetz of knifing Mr. McCarthy with no endgame past pursuing his personal private pursuits.
Ought to he select to run, Mr. Gaetz will nonetheless have liabilities as a statewide candidate. Federal prosecutors focused him as a part of a sex-trafficking investigation that didn’t result in expenses in opposition to him however revealed embarrassing private particulars that opponents would little doubt reprise. Influential conservative media pundits have turned on him over eradicating Mr. McCarthy.
And whereas Mr. Gaetz could have Mr. Trump’s robust help now, if the previous president loses his 2024 bid to return to the White Home, it’s unclear if he would proceed to play kingmaker in future elections.
Hypothesis about Mr. Gaetz’s political future is going on unusually early, earlier than subsequent 12 months’s presidential election — an indication, Florida Democrats say, that Republicans are prepared to maneuver on from Mr. DeSantis, who’s operating for president.
“They wish to look ahead as a result of they’re bored with this chaos, however clearly Matt Gaetz shouldn’t be the answer to that,” mentioned Nikki Fried, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Occasion, who ran within the main for governor final 12 months and will attempt for the job once more. However, she added: “All people’s consideration must be on 2024.”
In contrast to Mr. Gaetz, Mr. DeSantis was a largely unknown congressman from Northeast Florida when he ran for governor in 2018. His candidacy succeeded largely because of Mr. Trump’s endorsement. Now in his second time period, Mr. DeSantis has made the governorship an much more engaging job, increasing its authority to make the workplace maybe extra highly effective than ever earlier than.
If the present Republican dynamics persist, the 2026 race might flip right into a proxy struggle between a candidate backed by Mr. Trump and one backed by Mr. DeSantis — protecting Florida on the heart of the nation’s political dialog.
For now, Mr. Gaetz insists he has no plans to hunt the workplace, saying in a textual content message this week that he’s “not operating for governor.”
“I’m precisely the place I’m imagined to be. And I’m doing precisely what I’m imagined to be doing,” he mentioned. “My solely political ambition is electing President Trump once more.”
He referred to as a current NBC News report that he deliberate to run “overblown clickbait.” However in August, Mr. Gaetz appeared to acknowledge that main Florida had crossed his thoughts.
“I’d positively take pleasure in that job a lot,” Mr. Gaetz mentioned throughout a livestream appearance with Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who inspired him to run. “I’d by no means depart it if I ever received that chance.”
Among the many different potential Republican contenders are the complete Florida Cupboard — Ashley Moody, the legal professional normal; Wilton Simpson, the agriculture commissioner, and Jimmy Patronis, the chief monetary officer — in addition to Lt. Gov. Jeanette M. Núñez and several other members of Congress, together with Representatives Byron Donalds and Michael Waltz.
Mr. Donalds is seen as being significantly near Mr. Trump. Mr. Simpson has at occasions clashed with Mr. DeSantis, who’s term-limited. Ms. Moody and Ms. Núñez have endorsed the governor for president.
There isn’t a doubt that Mr. Gaetz is polarizing. Steve Vernon, a former chairman of the Republican Occasion of Manatee County, in Southwest Florida, referred to as Mr. McCarthy’s ouster “a complete mistake” by Mr. Gaetz.
“Democrats are all cheering and laughing,” Mr. Vernon mentioned. “All the consideration has switched from Biden” and immigration and different points, he added, “and now we’re in limbo.”
Have been Mr. Gaetz to run for governor, Mr. Vernon mentioned, he would have “no probability.”
“He’s too excessive,” he mentioned, “and he wouldn’t win.”
Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation, who’re often deferential to their colleagues, had been indignant at Mr. Gaetz and the opposite Republicans who ousted Mr. McCarthy. “Fringe hostage takers,” Consultant Carlos A. Gimenez of Miami referred to as them.
Consultant John Rutherford of Jacksonville blasted Mr. Gaetz by title. “Rep. Gaetz’s ‘concern’ for the American individuals is hole,” he mentioned. “Rep. Gaetz is driving our nation towards the brink of one other authorities shutdown, all for clicks and money and a lift in his nationwide profile.”
Regardless of his hard-line conservative views, Mr. Gaetz has additionally taken positions on marijuana coverage and different points which have made him buddies throughout the aisle. Considered one of them is John Morgan, a serious Florida political donor who describes himself as a “Biden Democrat” however is registered with no get together affiliation. Mr. Gaetz not too long ago had him on when he guest-hosted a present on Newsmax.
Mr. Morgan mentioned that if the Republican subject for governor is as crowded as anticipated, Mr. Gaetz can be properly positioned to get sufficient votes — maybe 30 % — to win. “It’s form of the Trump system,” he mentioned.
Most individuals don’t observe the ins and outs of Congress, Mr. Morgan added. Their takeaway from the McCarthy ouster shall be that Mr. Gaetz is a “fighter,” he mentioned, and that he’s tight with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Gaetz may be helped by his household. His father, Don Gaetz, served for a decade within the Florida Legislature, together with two years as Senate president, till 2016. This week, he filed to run for Senate once more.
In an interview, the elder Mr. Gaetz dismissed the suggestion that he was operating once more to be positioned to assist his son, saying he was inspired to return to politics by individuals in Northwest Florida.
“He and I speak virtually day-after-day, and I can inform you that he’s singularly centered on price range points and spending points and making an attempt to get a vote on time period limits in Washington,” he mentioned. “He has not informed me that he intends to run for governor. I don’t suppose he has an curiosity in it.”