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Matt Gaetz's alleged Newsmax scheme is actually a win-win

Conspiracy theories may get you an audience, but a seat in Congress is real power.
Image: Profile of representative Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is considering taking his trolling out of the House. Good.Samuel Corum / Getty Images; MSNBC

UPDATE (March 30, 2020, 6:34 p.m. ET): This piece has been updated to reflect reporting published by The New York Times that the Department of Justice is investigating Rep. Gaetz's potential relationship with an underaged girl.

Being a member of the U.S. Congress is, in theory at least, a difficult job. Between the voting, the legislating, the speechmaking, the begging for money so you can run again, I can see how it could be a hassle — which is why I am totally on board with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., potentially leaving it all behind for the glitz and glamor of conservative media.

Since being elected to the House in 2016, Gaetz has made a name for himself by saying a lot of things, many of them insincere, unproven or just outright fictional. Now, according to Axios, he’s debating taking his talents from the Capitol to Newsmax, the channel for those who want less facts than Fox News presents but aren’t ready to take the full dive into OANN’s murky, conspiracy-filled waters.

Gaetz hasn’t officially confirmed the report, which said three sources told Axios he’s “seriously considering not seeking re-election and possibly leaving Congress early.” (The Axios story — and this one — both published hours before The New York Times reported that Gaetz was being investigated for whether he potentially had "a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.")Now, if the allegations about Gaetz are true, he should absolutely not have an escape hatch after resigning from office. But if it's just a matter of no longer wanting to be in Congress, unrelated to The New York Times report, the Newsmax gig sounds like a job that he should definitely take. But I admit I have selfish reasons for thinking so.

For as long as Gaetz stays in Congress, he is newsworthy — a federal legislator’s thoughts are important and worth coverage, even if they’re objectively incorrect in their substance. There’s a broader debate to be had over whether that newsworthiness should automatically equal airtime on cable news and the Sunday shows (I, for one, don’t believe it should).

I think we can at least agree that the position of power they hold dictates that their views are of national importance, if for no other reason than to illustrate the beliefs and motives inside the fringe of a party increasingly beholden to its fringe.

That said, here are two names that I want you to consider: Trey Gowdy and Jason Chaffetz. In office, both Gowdy, R-S.C., and Chaffetz, R-Utah, used their positions to attack the Obama administration, specifically Hillary Clinton in the run-up to her 2016 presidential campaign. Chaffetz resigned his seat in 2017 to take a gig at Fox News, rather than remaining chair of the House Oversight Committee during the Trump administration. Gowdy followed suit the next year, declining to run for re-election in 2018 and joining Fox as a commentator in 2019.

Since then, Gowdy has gotten a promotion and is now hosting "Fox News Primetime" along with a rotating panel of hosts. Chaffetz is launching a new Fox-branded podcast this week. I bring them up because until this morning, I had not thought of either man in at least months.

You see, Chaffetz, Gowdy and Gaetz all represent a strain of GOP lawmaker that is more in the business for the adulation and brand-building that comes with going on television and “owning the libs.” You see it in the utter disregard Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has shown toward getting kicked off of her committee assignments. Her fellow freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., went as far as to say in an email to his GOP colleagues, “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.”

In a sense, it’s a valid strategy from them in a congressional system that’s become increasingly top-down, leaving the media as one of the few ways for the rank-and-file to break through on issues. I also understand the thinking that would lead someone to view a seat in Congress as a platform for a more highly paid gig in the conservative media bubble.

But in doing so, they risk mistaking money and clout for actual power. With a seat in the Capitol comes a platform to speak on literally anything that comes before the federal government. It means that even when your party is in the minority, you're able to put your voice out there on any topic and people need to listen.

Leaving that behind, as Gowdy and Chaffetz did, means that members of the mainstream media have no real need to pay attention to anything you say. Yes, you’ve got your base audience that you’re now speaking directly to — but to what end? It’s hard to see Gaetz parlaying a Newsmax gig into anything further, like a Senate seat or beyond in national politics, the same way it’s hard to ignore the relative obscurity that Chaffetz and Gowdy have obtained since resigning.

If Gaetz does retire, he leaves behind a solidly Republican seat, one coincidentally held by MSNBC’s own Joe Scarborough before he resigned in 2001. That would likely be where the comparison between the two ends. But his retirement would mean both having one less nonsense voice in the halls of power and that I get to stop thinking about Gaetz for long stretches at a time, to which I say: Seize the day, congressman. Seize the day.