The current crisis Matt Gaetz finds himself in involves a lot of unanswered questions. It’s not prudent to “take a side” when you don’t know all the details. Only Matt Gaetz truly knows if he did anything illegal. We should let that play out and until any evidence is produced otherwise, Congressman Gaetz deserves to be held to the standard of the American legal system: he must be assumed innocent until proven guilty. I am tired of reading stories from the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN that cite anonymous sources. Surely, those news outlets wouldn’t care so much to file reports with wild allegations based on anonymous sources if Rep. Gaetz was a Democrat.
With this being said, the current story of what Matt Gaetz is going through does provide some lessons for all of us, but most especially two kinds of people: those in any leadership role anywhere and those who identify as Republicans. For the latter, the lesson should be clear: The Left will come for you, whether you are innocent or not. They are always ready to do so given the right opportunity.
Every journalist covering this story has to ask themselves: do I want the allegations against Matt Gaetz to be true? Or do I want the truth no matter what? Those journalists should put one attribute ahead of all else: the humility for their reporting to be subservient to the truth and nothing but the truth.
Rep. Gaetz is a self-professed “firebrand” (he even has a book with that title). In fact, that’s part of why I have liked him so much, for so long. I have observed too many spineless politicians and especially spineless Republicans. Matt is just a few years younger than me and is an outspoken conservative who is willing to fight when others aren’t. We need more warriors like Matt Gaetz.
I have observed Matt since his early days as a state legislator when I lived in Tallahassee and worked for a public policy organization, The James Madison Institute. Back then, Matt was already making waves as a principled, outspoken conservative. In other ways, Matt, being a young guy in his 20s, also didn’t shy away from the party scene – which isn’t hard to find in Tallahassee. Being a young, charismatic lawmaker, he certainly attracted a good time, as he has admitted time and again.
On one occasion, I remember seeing Matt walking out of a bar, by himself, pretty hammered. I said hello and we chatted for a moment, and then we moved on. I remember thinking: man, there’s nothing particularly wrong about a guy in his late 20s enjoying the bar scene in Tallahassee (guilty as charged) but I’m not sure I’d do that if I were a state lawmaker.
You see, we Americans have an impression that if someone is in a leadership position, they must somehow live up to a higher standard. After all, the people’s business is in their hands. How dare they enjoy themselves or indulge a little too much? Even I was guilty, in that moment, for passing quiet judgment on Matt Gaetz (and perhaps repeating that judgment publicly here – truth be told, if I felt like I was letting out some big secret, I wouldn’t do so).
Over the years, I have heard plenty of rumors of Matt’s wild side, but every time I’ve personally encountered him has been in a professional setting where he has been a professional. Even on another occasion when I saw him at a bar, he was being a “celebrity bartender” to help raise funds for a charity that supported rescue dogs. He was a “bartender” for a few hours alongside a Democrat colleague in a friendly “red dog, blue dog” competition. And he was pretty laid back that day. Not exactly a wild man moment.
The last time Matt and I chatted for any length of time were at a Charlie Kirk book signing in West Palm Beach in March 2020. Matt was not advertised to be there, but I’m sure he knew it would be a great crowd to mix and mingle with. He spent some time asking me some serious policy questions and surveying my opinion on a few matters. He seemed pretty serious then.
Just a few months ago, I started hearing chatter about Matt Gaetz’s close relationship with Joel Greenberg, as well as some of Matt’s other escapades. Nothing illegal, but what I heard alarmed me. For someone so boldly and outspokenly conservative – someone so brazen – I believe even if Matt had engaged in nothing but clean living, he already had a target on his back. That’s why I like him so much. He is willing to be our conservative warrior. There are few people who will be so bold and courageous.
But if what I was now hearing was true – and it was coming from reputable sources who have every reason to be as big a fan of Matt’s as I was – then that told me that Matt might have been too careless, too lacking of judgment, and, well, stupid. Matt has never struck me as stupid. Never.
But careless? Anyone can be careless. Cocky? Sure, he can definitely be described that way. And when you are in such a leadership position like him – everywhere you go you are greeted by adoring fans, or even people like me, who tell him to “keep up the fight.” We supporters of people like him want to be encouraging, but we also – accidentally, perhaps – put those people on a pedestal. In their own mind, they become larger than life. We are all human. We all have faults and failings. But leaders, whether in business, politics, or even religion – are constantly told how great they are. They start believing they are not only great but invincible. They start falling for the sin that caused the devil to fall: PRIDE.
No one is invincible. This is why we all need peers to hold us accountable.
And this is the lesson we can all learn from the current crisis Matt Gaetz finds himself in. Could he have been careless and allowed his enemies to use his – what could be legal, yet reckless – behavior against him? Could he have been fooled this long by a man as crooked as Joel Greenberg? Others certainly were. Was Matt more closely aligned to Greenberg than others? Or is he simply the “highest level” friend that Greenberg associated with and now finding himself guilty by association by a media that has been waiting to pounce on him?
There are lots of questions here. It is unclear whether all the true answers will emerge. Partly, that’s because Matt, as a firebrand, has created a number of political enemies. And if you are an enemy of the Left, the establishment Right, or the legacy media, then you will always be a target. When you put yourself in harm’s way with reckless personal behavior or associating with bad characters, you only feed your enemy the blood they were already thirsting for.
Whether or not Matt Gaetz is guilty of an actual crime is not the point of this article. The point is: if you find yourself in a leadership position, you need to double down on your personal accountability. Surround yourself with friends you can trust – and not with “yes” men. Seek humility every day. Have mentors. Make friends in leadership positions who also seek to be people of high character – and who you can confide in when you have no one else who can possibly understand your challenges. It’s unclear to me whether Matt has had these things in place or not. It’s not easy as you are climbing into the national spotlight so quickly. And unless someone has given you a book like Why Great Men Fall by Wayde Goodall, it’s easy to be unprepared for the challenge success brings.
If you are a Republican and in a political position, double down at least twice as much as any other leader should – for when things go wrong – even by appearance – you have no friends in the establishment or in the media. Just ask Matt Gaetz. I hope he has a dog – and a good lawyer. But mostly, I hope through this crisis, he finds the most important thing we all need to search for every day: humility. And as for all journalists covering this saga or considering wading into it — I hope they find humility too.
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