The Gaetz Gang: A political tag team that will shape Florida’s future

by | Oct 8, 2023

In the politically charged arena that is Florida, a formidable new duo comprised of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and his father, Don Gaetz, has appeared on the horizon. When the elder Gaetz is reelected next year, the their partnership will grow even stronger, evoking the flamboyance and audacity of the political version of a professional wrestling tag-team,  like the old-school British Bulldogs, the Bushwhackers, or in more modern times, the Hardy Boyz. The dynamic between these two Republicans—father and son—will undoubtedly wield considerable influence over Sunshine State politics for years to come. Here’s a brief look at how they’re respective political spheres will complement one another:

The Flying Elbow Drop: Matt Gaetz takes down the U.S. House Speaker

Unless you just got back in the country after a long trip to a remote jungle far from cellular data, you likely already know that earlier this week, Matt Gaetz achieved the previously unachievable: successfully engineering the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy  on a 216-210 vote. In the process, McCarthy became the first House Speaker to be ousted mid-term in the history of U.S. politics. An onslaught of media stories claimed that the move “alienated” Gaetz from several in his own party, but the truth of the matter is that Gaetz’s relationship with many of those taking shots at him has long been strained, at best, and non-existent in among many. In any case, he could care less.

More importantly, the episode once again displayed Gaetz’s ability to seize control of a political narrative and become the headline act. He frequently shows he’s more than willing to climb the turnbuckle and leap elbow-first onto the political establishment, even as some in his own party cringe at the spectacle.

The Veteran Wrestler Returns: Don Gaetz

While all that was going down, another Gaetz was pulling on his wrestling singlet and preparing to enter the ring. Matt’s father, former state Senate President Don Gaetz, announced this week that he plans to return to the Florida Legislature. And return he will, barring some unforeseen circumstance. So formidable is the elder Gaetz that one candidate who’d already announced plans to run for the same senate seat promptly dropped out.

The elder man brings a wealth of experience to the Gaetz tag team. His reentry into the Florida political scene is viewed as both a potential boon for his son and a stabilizing force within Florida’s Republican Party.  Where Matt Gaetz is known as a political firebrand, his father is much less so, if not the opposite. He brings with him a track record of successfully navigating a wide range of political pitfalls during his tenure as Senate President, forging key relationships with major political players from across the state.

What’s Next for the Dynamic Duo?

Almost immediately, media pundits did some political math and concluded that the elder Gaetz’s return to the arena could only mean one thing: Matt Gaetz is running for Florida governor in 2026. The younger Gaetz has tried to throw cold water on such talk, but it persists.

How did the pundits arrive at these calculations?  For starters, Matt Gaetz is one of several names frequently mentioned by GOP insiders as a potential contender to replace DeSantis when his term ends, alongside fellow Congressman Byron Donalds and a host of others who are, no doubt, also eyeing the prize.

But his father’s influence in the state legislature could act as a crucial fundraising mechanism to bolster the younger Gaetz’s campaign coffers. As a major political player who would wield enormous influence in the state senate even if he never again gripped the Senate President’s gavel, Don Gaetz wouldn’t even have to lift a finger in order to influence political donations toward his son’s campaign. Lest there be any doubters, here’s how that actually works: lobbyists, always eager to please a state lawmaker when they need a vote, would simply stroke a check and make sure Don Gaetz knew they did it, all in an effort to curry favor.

And besides all that, Don Gaetz has built up a wealth of political good will, in part because he knows how to steer money both inside and outside of the state legislature. From 2017 through last year, he served as chairman of Triumph Gulf Coast, the quasi-governmental organization that has steered hundreds of millions of dollars related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Those recovery dollars have gone to a wide range of benefactors over that span, and they are surely grateful for Gaetz’s role in getting their hands on the money.

The elder Gaetz’s political influence in the panhandle is nearly universal, and together with his outspoken son in Congress – running for governor or not – the duo would create so much political gravity in Florida’s panhandle that it will be felt all the way down the peninsula, shaping the outcome of Florida’s political scene for the next decade.


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