November 30, 2023

He’s polarizing in Washington and polarizing at dwelling. And in each locations lately, he’s getting extra consideration than anybody may count on, given his lack of seniority and skinny legislative file.

As Consultant Matt Gaetz of Florida orchestrated the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, constituents in his overwhelmingly Republican district had loads of ideas about their congressman’s actions and instantly strong nationwide profile.

“If we removed the speaker of the Home, hopefully we get somebody in there who doesn’t make backdoor offers with Democrats,” mentioned Sandra Atkinson, the chairwoman of the Republican Get together of Okaloosa County, including that Republicans had been pleased with him for following by means of on his phrase.

Critics in his district noticed a political second that was about ego and ambition and little extra.

“He’s following by means of on utilizing chaos as each a performative artwork — that phrase is overused however it’s true — and since he’s annoyed he’s not getting his personal means,” mentioned Phil Ehr, a Democrat who ran towards Mr. Gaetz in 2018 and is now operating for the U.S. Senate. “In some methods, he’s appearing like a petulant little one.”

But for all of his time spent selecting fights — and, his critics say, little time crafting laws — Mr. Gaetz stays broadly widespread in his district, a stretch of the western Florida Panhandle, the place he received re-election final 12 months by practically 36 share factors. His skirmishes in Washington, and a federal investigation that exposed embarrassing particulars about his non-public life, have completed little to bruise him.

“There’s lots of people who like Matt Gaetz,” mentioned Joel Terry Could, 67, an area artist, as he confirmed off a portray in downtown Pensacola to guests from New Orleans. “He speaks for the folks, and he speaks out.”

Mr. Could, who grew up in Alabama, remembers a time when former Gov. George C. Wallace visited his faculty again within the Nineteen Sixties.

“Folks didn’t like George Wallace nationally, however the individuals who elected him and represented him did,” he mentioned. “That’s what Gaetz additionally understands. Once you symbolize anyone, you need them to take care of the texture of the folks. Folks need to see Washington work. They need their representatives to have a pulse on the realm.”

Mr. Gaetz is extensively disliked by his friends in Congress however is grudgingly acknowledged to be sensible and artful, and definitely a grasp of drawing consideration to himself. Mr. Gaetz was re-elected final 12 months whereas beneath the cloud of an investigation in a federal sex-trafficking case that in the end resulted in no criminal charges towards him. (A congressional ethics review is pending.) Twice, girls have been arrested after throwing their drinks at him.

Now, his assist for a far-right posture that would shut down the federal authorities — straight affecting most of the folks he represents — is unlikely to dent him, his critics acknowledged.

“He’s beloved by the First Congressional District,” mentioned Mark Lombardo, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Gaetz in final 12 months’s Republican main.

Mr. Lombardo attributed his loss, amongst different issues, to Mr. Gaetz’s household ties — his father, Don Gaetz, is a rich and well-known former president of the Florida Senate who on Monday filed to run for the Senate once more after stepping down in 2016 — and his devotion to former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Gaetz is one in every of Mr. Trump’s closest allies in Congress and has backed him for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination over Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

“He was Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,” Mr. Lombardo mentioned of the congressman, “and the First District is all about Trump.”

No different congressional district within the nation has as many army veterans, a gaggle that would have been badly harm by a shutdown. But even his critics concede that Mr. Gaetz stays widespread amongst them.

Barry Goodson, 70, a registered Democrat and retired Military veteran who as soon as helped arrange folks towards a plan backed by Mr. Gaetz to denationalise a few of Northwest Florida’s sandy white seashores, mentioned he frightened that his well being care suppliers on the Division of Veterans Affairs would endure beneath a shutdown.

“I nonetheless can’t perceive why Gaetz hates negotiating moderately than understanding one thing for the folks within the district,” he mentioned.

“A chaos agent shouldn’t be good for public coverage,” mentioned Samantha Herring, a Democratic nationwide committeewoman in Walton County. “It’s not good for getting freeway funds, schooling and veterans’ affairs.”

And Mr. McCarthy’s ouster left even some followers of Mr. Gaetz with questions on precisely what had been completed.

John Roberts, chairman of the Escambia County Republican Get together, mentioned that Republicans, even these sometimes sympathetic to Mr. Gaetz’s views on different insurance policies like immigration and the nationwide debt, usually supported protecting Mr. McCarthy as speaker.

“It’s not like we’re mad at Matt Gaetz; he’s nonetheless congressman,” he mentioned. “However I believe this was most likely the mistaken transfer.”

However because the Home smoldered and shook, different backers of Mr. Gaetz mentioned they had been all in.

Tim Hudson, 26, a lifelong Pensacola resident, has voted for Mr. Gaetz. Upon studying on Tuesday in regards to the congressman’s profitable ouster of Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Hudson supplied solely extra reward.

“That simply makes me assist him much more,” Mr. Hudson mentioned.

He added that the ouster of Mr. McCarthy “speaks to how the world actually is true now. We’re drained. We’re fed up. We need to see folks begin getting issues completed.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.

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