Matt Gaetz, Underpants Gnome. The Art Of Performative Conservatism

Dan O’Donnell has a blistering takedown of Congressman Matt Gaetz’s removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy


Oct. 4th, 2023
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell


Watching Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz grandstanding for the cameras ahead of the vote to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy immediately brought to mind an old episode of South Park in which a group of gnomes plots to get rich stealing underpants. Their business slogan has since become a popular meme:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit


Source: South Park


With McCarthy now the first House Speaker in American history ever voted out of his job, we are at the “?” phase, but Gaetz is of course looking to profit. At precisely 4:34 pm Central, almost exactly one hour after the House vote, this author received a fundraising email from Gaetz with the subject line “Help Vacate Kevin McCarthy.”

“Our Speaker tells us he is being ‘the adult in the room’ by lying to House conservatives and cutting a deal with the Democrats,” Gaetz’s team wrote. “If he is still our Speaker by this time next week… It will be because his new Democrat bosses have bailed him out.

“He can be THEIR Speaker. Not MINE. Are you with me? Join me and demand NEW LEADERSHIP.”

As expected, the last sentence links to his campaign donation page, so he at least got the “profit” part right. He also knows his marks, errrr, audience: Said donation page prominently features a picture of Gaetz smiling on Air Force One with former President Donald Trump.



Could Gaetz’s grift be any more obvious? His performative conservatism any more odious? He is soliciting funds for a planned run for governor in 2026 (a likely stepping stone to a presidential bid two years later) by posing as a MAGA champion bravely taking down the hated Establishment.  Gaetz isn’t stupid, but he’s counting on Trump’s supporters to be.

McCarthy won a tense, prolonged Speakership battle in January  because Trump endorsed him, posting on Truth Social after the third vote that “it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.”

If McCarthy was the enemy of MAGA who secretly works for “Democrat bosses,” then why did the personification of MAGA himself push a McCarthy speakership as a “victory” for his “GREAT Republican House Members?”

And if McCarthy’s great crime against the conservative movement was, as Gaetz put it, “cutting a deal with Democrats,” then why was Gaetz fine with cutting a deal with Democrats to oust McCarthy? Only seven of the 221 House Republicans joined Gaetz, but so did 208 of 212 Democrats. If one didn’t know better, it would sure look like true MAGA patriot Matt Gaetz is the one working for Democratic bosses.

Republicans are far weaker now than they were before McCarthy was removed, and no one—Gaetz least of all—knows what’s next…except for Gaetz personally profiting off this in both campaign donations and name recognition. That aside, has conservatism been advanced? The supposed RINO is gone, but Democrat House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries already has designs on the Speakership. If all he needs are the votes of a tiny handful of Republicans in districts President Biden carried in 2020 (and there are quite a few), then he and the Democrats could seize the leadership of the House right from under Republicans’ nose.

This wouldn’t just be the biggest embarrassment in the history of Congress, it would also be the most devastating blow that Republicans could inflict on themselves in their fight to maintain their slim majority.

When Republicans most need to be united, they are bitterly divided. Wait, actually they’re not.  96.4% of them just voted to keep McCarthy as Speaker, but because 3.6% of them wanted ? and then profit, all 100% of them sit in this precarious position.

Oh well, at least Gaetz got his underpants.