Matt Gaetz’s revenge campaign against Kevin McCarthy spreads to the primaries

Rep. Matt Gaetz is riding high after making history by leading the charge to topple former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but ousting McCarthy apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy the chaos agent’s vendetta. Even McCarthy’s recent resignation from the House hasn’t stanched the Florida Republican’s anger. Now Gaetz is jumping into House races to oppose McCarthy’s picks, promising some nasty primary battles as the Florida Man tries to consolidate MAGA power, potentially to his own peril.

In a few battleground districts, Gaetz is supporting MAGA extremists against more moderate (or what passes for “moderate”) candidates McCarthy has tapped. That includes backing a second bid by Ohio’s J.R. Majewski for the seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. You might remember Majewski as the Jan. 6 insurrectionist with QAnon tendencies and an unhealthy obsession with Donald Trump. Majewski was also caught in a very big lie about his military service in Afghanistan—the lie being that he ever set foot in that country during what the Associated Press described as his “six-month stint helping to load planes at an air base in Qatar.” That lie resulted in Republican Party leadership abandoning Majewiski’s bid for a seat the GOP had been coveting—and trying to gerrymander Kaptur out of—for years.

Politico reports that Gaetz is also backing an ultraconservative in another battleground seat held by a Democrat: Nevada’s 3rd District, where Rep. Susie Lee has served since 2019. Gaetz is also taking on incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Bost in Illinois’ 12th District by backing Darren Bailey, who was last seen in 2022 losing his gubernatorial bid by double digits.

None of this will endear Gaetz to his GOP colleagues. Republicans need to flip those Ohio and Nevada seats to help retain their slim House majority, and putting wingnut MAGA challengers up in swing districts won’t help that cause. Neither will the nasty primaries that Gaetz is promising, nor his ongoing grudge against McCarthy, which Gaetz insists isn’t a thing. “He’s old news,” Gaetz told Politico of McCarthy, getting yet another dig in.

Gaetz didn’t win too many friends beyond the few he’d already claimed in the House GOP with his history-making ouster of McCarthy. And House Republicans’ resentment of him is likely to grow in 2024 if their fundraising continues to be anemic. McCarthy was the cash cow for the party, and his absence is being felt in their campaign accounts.

Right now, Gaetz seems to be enjoying the hate for him within the Republican conference, going so far as to fundraise off of it. “The Swamp dwellers don’t want anything to change, and they are willing to sell America down the river to protect their own interests,” he said in a fundraising email earlier this month, evoking a pathetic parody of Trump. “And since I refuse to play ball with these RINOs, they are secretly plotting behind closed doors and looking for ANYTHING they can use to expel me from Congress.”

There’s nothing “secret” about it, though. The Republican-led House Ethics Committee’s investigation of him is in full swing, with at least one new witness interview sought this month. The committee has been investigating allegations against Gaetz, including that he, in CNN’s words, “violated sex trafficking laws, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, used illicit drugs, converted campaign funds to personal use and accepted a bribe, among other claims.” This past July, the committee added a probe into potential lobbying violations.

Gaetz appears to relish sticking his neck out against the “RINO” “Swamp.” He also appears to think he’s invincible. He could be right; the House GOP might just be too incompetent to organize his expulsion. Or he could be ginning up enough antipathy against himself that the rest of his conference prioritizes getting that job done.

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